Supporters of the Obama administration Iran deal have had a rough couple weeks. The bipartisan passage of the Corker-Mendez bill (the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015) out of the Foreign Relations Committee, conveyed in no uncertain terms that Congress is concerned enough about this deal to insist it have a voice.
It also raises the question: how were hesitant Democrats convinced it was the right thing to support this bill even as a Democratic president was in the midst of negotiations.
On April 2nd President Obama proclaimed, “Today, the United States, together with our allies and partners, has reached a historic understanding with Iran, which, if fully implemented, will prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”
Soon after the Obama administration released some details about the deal, the Iranians released their version. These were more than mere messaging differences. They called into question the president’s use of the word “understanding.”
The Iranians want sanctions lifted as soon as the final deal is finalized. The U.S. insists the sanctions will be relieved gradually. The Iranians believe they agreed to stop highly enriching uranium for 10 years. The U.S. said Iran will stop for 15 years. The Iranians will allow access to some nuclear facilities on a voluntary and temporary basis. The U.S. says inspectors will have regular access to all of Iran’s nuclear facilities, including those on military bases.
The Ayatollah took to Twitter to vent about the differences, as he is inclined to do, “I trust our negotiators but I’m really worried as the other side is into lying & breaching promises; an example was White House fact sheet.” And then: “Hours after the #talks, Americans offered a fact sheet that most of it was contrary to what was agreed. They always deceive & breach promises.”
Supporters of the deal dismissed the tweets, saying they were meant to just be “appealing to the hard-liners.” But even if the Supreme Leader himself does not really believe what went out from his official Twitter account — despite all evidence to the contrary — does it mean nothing that the nation the U.S. is so determined to reach an accord with has enough “hard-liners” in constant need of having their concerns assuaged?
Moreover, a deal that fails to nail down real restrictions, which has no agreed-upon means of verification, and doesn’t contain any consequences when compliance fails is no agreement at all. It is a chimera.
Even so, the White House has been trying to sell its efforts to the American people by claiming that Republicans skeptical of the deal are merely playing partisan politics. “That’s the kind of partisanship that has infected so much of what this president has tried to do over the course of the last six years and it’s unfortunate that it’s emerging in the context of such a critical national security priority for the United States,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said in describing those who oppose the deal,
That argument is pretty rich, considering the administration can hardly claim it is above leveraging partisanship to achieve its own objectives. Indeed, in recent weeks the White House has conducted a lobbying blitz to win over Democratic skeptics and has played the party loyalty card. According to the Wall Street Journal, “officials have tried to neutralize skeptical Democrats by arguing that opposing President Barack Obama would empower the new Republican majority.” Surely, Democrats are feeling pressure to be loyal to the President, but the deal is so bad that the Corker-Menendez bill was able to pass out of committee without a single opposing vote.
The Corker-Menendez bill would give Congress the chance to review the agreement and a “fast track” veto authority. The fast-track veto authority requires both chambers, in up or down votes, to disapprove of the final agreement. That is a tall order.
Recall that the President chose not to negotiate this deal as a treaty in order to circumvent a skeptical Senate. Had this agreement been a treaty, the president would have had to convince the Senate that the treaty would improve U.S. security — otherwise, no treaty. The Corker-Menendez bill puts the pressure on the deal’s skeptics to convince Democrats under pressure from the White House to vote against an agreement, presumably supported by all the P 5+1 states in an up or down vote. That’s a tall order.
The hard part for Congress lies ahead. Will enough lawmakers from both chambers have the gumption to vote against a negotiated agreement without amendment in an up or down vote? This remains to be seen.
It is worth noting that the bill passed out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with only slight modifications, and the only real change struck language that would have required the president to certify that Iran is not engaging in terrorism.
What does it say that the Obama administration lobbied Democrats to oppose a provision related to terrorism for fear it would be a deal-breaker? The White House has long considered Iran’s support for terrorism as tangential to its nuclear program, ignoring the fact that by relieving sanctions, thereby pumping billions back into the Iranian economy, it would be indirectly enabling Iran’s support for terrorism.
But there are other issues the Obama administration once deemed critical to any final deal that have fallen by the wayside.
In 2009, the administration and the U.N. Security Council said “zero enrichment” was the standard. The administration has also said that the clandestine facilities in which Iran had continued illicit work had to be closed down and the number of centrifuges had to be capped at low numbers. The massive missile program, the Obama administration said, had to be addressed. And “snap inspections” were a must to hold the Iranians truly accountable.
Under the agreed-upon framework Tehran can: enrich; the facilities at Fordow and Arak can remain open; centrifuges — although their numbers will fall — will stay around 6,000; the missile program is completely unmentioned; and inspections will be anything but “snap-like.” In fact, Iran continues to evade the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors.
In the words of David Albright, arguably the most credible independent voice on nuclear weapons: “If Iran is able to successfully evade addressing the IAEA’s concerns, when biting sanctions are in place, why would it address them later when these sanctions are lifted?” The answer, of course, is that it will not.
The U.S. negotiators, by conceding so much of what they had only recently deemed critical, and by giving Iran a pass on refusing to cooperate with the IAEA, have taken on the role of beggar, and the Iranians, supporters of international terrorism notwithstanding, the ones from whom the U.S. begs.
Corker-Menendez bill or not, Congress should steel itself against the pressures of the White House, reject the proposed (and, the editor notes, still-unfinished) deal, and refuse to lift sanctions in response to such an irredeemably flawed agreement.
Rebeccah Heinrichs, an expert in nuclear deterrence, missile defense, and counter-proliferation, is a fellow at the Marshall Institute and an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute here in Washington. You can follow Rebeccah on twitter at @RLHeinrichs.