National Security & Defense

The Obama Administration’s Iran-Deal Duplicity

(Reuters photo: Kevin Lamarque)

In January 2016, the Obama administration released seven Iranian-born prisoners in what President Barack Obama called a “one-time” “humanitarian gesture” intended to sweeten the nuclear deal hammered out between Washington, D.C., and Tehran. The prisoners — who Josh Earnest insisted were guilty only of “sanctions violations or violations of the trade embargo” — were exchanged for five Americans, unjustly held by Iran since as early as 2011. In fact, some of the Iranian prisoners were national-security threats, and it wasn’t a straight prisoner swap: The Wall Street Journal revealed that on the day of the exchange the U.S. flew $400 million in cash on an unmarked cargo plane to Iran.

When it came to its negotiations with Iran, duplicity was the hallmark of the previous administration’s public statements. (Sanctimonious preening was a close second.) But supporters assured skeptics that the administration was acting in the country’s best national-security interests. Now comes a new bombshell investigation that shows the lengths to which the previous administration went to secure Iranian cooperation, even when it meant putting American security at risk.

According to an investigation by Politico, in addition to the prisoner release, the Justice Department quietly “dropped charges and international arrest warrants against 14 other men, all of them fugitives.” Several of them were wanted for alleged roles in helping to funnel materiel to Iran-backed terror outfits, such as Hezbollah, or for participating in the global network to procure components for Iran’s nuclear program. One was believed to have helped supply Shiite militias in Iraq with a particularly deadly type of IED — one that killed “hundreds” of American troops. Furthermore:

Justice and State Department officials denied or delayed requests from prosecutors and agents to lure some key Iranian fugitives to friendly countries so they could be arrested. Similarly, Justice and State, at times in consultation with the White House, slowed down efforts to extradite some suspects already in custody overseas, according to current and former officials and others involved in the counterproliferation effort. And as far back as the fall of 2014, Obama administration officials began slow-walking some significant investigations and prosecutions of Iranian procurement networks operating in the U.S.

As Politico says, “through action in some cases and inaction in others, the White House derailed its own much-touted National Counterproliferation Initiative at a time when it was making unprecedented headway in thwarting Iran’s proliferation networks.”

Last Tuesday, facing a deadline, the Trump administration certified that Iran is compliant with the terms of the deal, and extended sanctions relief. However, at a press conference the following day, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the deal “fails to achieve the objective of a non-nuclear state,” and announced that the administration is reviewing the deal. President Trump has said that Iran is “not living up to the spirit of” the deal.

This is a fitting criticism, given that the “letter” of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was written narrowly, so as to make it as easy as possible for Iran to comply; the central concerns were handled in side deals, negotiated in secret and never disclosed. (Notice a trend?) Meanwhile, the JCPOA remains almost entirely toothless. Under the deal, the mullahs in Tehran have to wait a few years until they can continue enriching uranium, but they are charging ahead with efforts to weaponize the fissile material Iran has (at military facilities such as Parchin, which have been subject to “self-inspection”) and to develop ballistic missiles to carry nuclear warheads, when the time comes. And, of course, this work is being facilitated by American largesse through the relaxed sanctions regime.

President Trump has declared, on more than a few occasions, that when it comes to dealings with foreign powers, he will aim to put American interests first. He could start with Iran. The JCPOA has not stopped Iran’s saber-rattling or its material support for terrorist outfits throughout the Middle East, and it has only slightly delayed Iran’s nuclear calendar. The security of the United States and its allies requires an aggressive, tough-minded approach to the hostile regime in Tehran, one that deals with that regime as it is, not as we wish it were.

Barack Obama, John Kerry, and the rest of the foreign-policy team that crafted the nuclear deal with Iran grossly misled the American people. This deal is a calamity for our national-security interests, and with this latest revelation, that is clearer than ever.

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The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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