The Corner

How Bad a Deal Is It? Ask Bibi

Everything we need to know about the administration’s nuclear deal with Iran is visible in the smiles of Iranian negotiators and the anger on the face of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu pulled no punches, calling this “a very bad deal.”

And so it is. Iran gets billions of dollars in financial relief — the amount is unclear but relief from gold-trading sanctions alone is worth billions — and starts the process of reversing the sanctions momentum. Henceforth there will be fewer international sanctions, not more. In exchange, does it pull back from its nuclear-weapons program? From what we know now, it does not. Not one centrifuge is taken apart, as Netanyahu noted: There are 18,000 today, and 18,000 under this deal. Natanz and other sites remain intact. Not one ounce of enriched uranium is shipped overseas. Apparently Iran won’t enrich beyond 3.5 percent under this deal, but can build up limitless stocks of low-enriched uranium.

Abandoned here is the test of whether Iran needs any of this for a genuinely peaceful program; abandoned are the unanimous U.N. Security Council and IAEA Board resolutions that called for zero enrichment; abandoned is the test of whether Iran is truly further from a bomb.

So this deal is reminiscent of the Bush administration’s disastrous “Banco Delta Asia” deal with North Korea, which similarly unravelled sanctions in exchange for far too little. It also reminds us that the lead American negotiator, Wendy Sherman, led the Clinton administration’s own disastrous North Korea policy, and is the person who urged Clinton (and when that failed, Albright!) to travel to Pyongyang and toast Kim Jong Il.

The Obama administration entered these negotiations from a position of strength: Iran needs sanctions relief badly. But it acted as if we were the weak party, desperately seeking a deal, any deal. The wily Iranian negotiators smelled this instantly, and struck. We used to hear that “all options are on the table.” But in the end, a weak American negotiating stance meant that what appeared on the table was a victory for Iran.

What now? Congress should pass additional sanctions and let Iran and the rest of the world know that not everyone is fooled and that relief is neither automatic nor inevitable. And both houses should now schedule hearings over this bad deal, and demand to know why this was the best we could get and why was deemed to be sufficient.

But let’s be clear: A lot of damage has been done. Once again, one need only watch the video of Netanyahu’s press conference to see what the Obama administration has wrought.

Elliott Abrams is a senior fellow in Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former deputy national-security adviser.

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