The six-month nuclear deal with Iran will go into effect on January 20 and the White House is nervous that its critics will lead to its undoing. As a bi-partisan majority comes together in Congress to approve further sanctions if a final deal is not reached at the end of the six months, the White House is accusing them of secretly desiring a war.
“As of that day, for the first time in almost a decade, Iran’s nuclear program will not be able to advance, and parts of it will be rolled back, while we start negotiating a comprehensive agreement to address the international community’s concerns about Iran’s program,” Secretary of State Kerry said.
This boast is based on two flimsy premises.
Firstly, Iran’s nuclear program can and will advance. The regime is still developing advanced centrifuges, enriching uranium, building ballistic missiles, and training nuclear scientists.
At the same time, the work that Iran supposedly halts will continue in North Korea. It is an error to look at the nuclear programs of the two countries as independent. They are interlocked. When North Korea advances; so does Iran.
Secondly, while it is technically true that parts of the program are “rolled back,” they are not necessarily permanent. It is true that the Iranians are required to convert its stockpile of 20% enriched uranium into an oxide that cannot be used for building a bomb, but that’s not the same thing as disarmament.
Two experts from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and Belfer Centre for Science and International Affairs explain:
“The notion that this puts the material ‘beyond use for bombs’ is simply wrong. The conversion of oxide back to uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas is not ‘time-consuming,’ is not necessarily ‘detectable,’ and it is not particularly ‘technically demanding.”
This conversion does not eliminate Iran’s 20% enriched uranium; it just makes it a little harder to use for nuclear weapons. The Iranian regime is calculating that this temporary setback will yield long-term nuclear gains. This “concession” in no way reflects a commitment by Iran not to build nuclear weapons capabilities.
A powerful bi-partisan coalition has come together in Congress that the White House worries will jeopardize its deal. Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) have written a new bill that will hit Iran with even stronger sanctions at the end of the six-month period if a comprehensive deal is not reached. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is also a critical supporter.
Their logic is solid: If sanctions are what brought Iran to the negotiating table, then the threat of harsher sanctions will compel Iran to agree to a long-term deal. If Iran does not give up its uranium enrichment, then it will face sanctions that threaten its oil industry like never before.
The Obama administration is offensively questioning these congressmen’s sincerity. A spokesperson for the National Security Council accused them of secretly trying to trigger a war. She said if they “want the United States to take military action, they should be up front with the American people and say so.”
The administration is worried because its foreign policy legacy is at stake. The Iranian regime is threatening to walk away from the deal if new sanctions are passed. Hypocritically, it was the Obama Treasury Department that placed further sanctions on entities linked to Iran’s nuclear program after the agreement was announced.
There are also political risks for the administration. The strong showing of bi-partisan opposition threatens the deal and the administration’s credibility on Iran. President Obama says he will veto any new sanctions legislation, but he now faces a majority that can override his veto. The back-and-forth would cause numerous unfavorable news cycles and the episode would be brought up again every time in the future that Iran is talked about.
The Iranian regime is already seeing enormous benefits even before the six-month period begins on January 20. International investors are ready to pounce at the opportunity to exploit the easing of sanctions. Italy is particularly eager to end the sanctions on Iran.
Russia is on the cusp of a major deal to buy 500,000 barrels of Iranian oil per day, increasing the regime’s exports by a whopping 50%. Turkey is believed to have helped Iran work past the sanctions and such cooperation will only increase as the Turkish and Iranian governments become closer and closer.
This is all on top of the $7-10 billion in sanctions relief that the Obama administration publicly agree to provide Iran over the course of the six-month period. Israeli estimates put the figure at around $20 billion.
That’s the reward Iran gets for agreeing to stay 7/10ths of the way towards having bomb-grade uranium. In addition, the deal has helped push Iran’s Arab enemies into the arms of Russia and away from the U.S.
To summarize, here’s what Iran has gotten for agreeing to slow down its nuclear pursuits:
• The delaying of further sanctions
• $20 billion in sanctions relief
• Lucrative deals with international partners and investors
• A decreased likelihood of effective sanctions in the future as more countries and companies invest in Iran
• Favorable geopolitical shifts
• The preservation of its nuclear infrastructure and 20% enriched uranium
• An acknowledgement from the U.S. that Iran should be allowed to enrich to at least 5%
The Iranian regime’s participation in the deal doesn’t mean it’s had a change in heart. All it did was negotiate a deal that any nuke-seeking mullah would see as a good bargain.
The Institute on Religion and Democracy contributed to this article.
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