How Obama tossed away a winning hand in the Iran negotiations.
He can look at an elephant and proclaim it a donkey without a bat of the eye. Or in the case of Iran, look at spinning centrifuges and see no threat.
Over the weekend he told George Stephanapolous that the nuclear deal with Iran, which his negotiators extended for another eight months on Monday without a single concession from Iran, has “definitely stopped Iran’s nuclear program from advancing.”
Welcome to Obama’s Parallel Universe.
Iran continues to spin centrifuges and expand its stockpiles of enriched uranium. It continues to develop new generations of centrifuges that will allow Iran to race to the bomb five times faster than it can today. As we learned earlier this month, the International Atomic Energy Agency even found that Iran was feeding uranium gas into some of these new generation centrifuges in violation of the interim nuclear deal. The U.S. declined to call out the Iranians for cheating.
Iran also continues work on the plutonium bomb plant at Arak, rather than dismantling it as the U.S. initially demanded. It continues to deny full scope inspections and to refuse inquiries from the IAEA to explain its past nuclear weapons-related activities, without which the United States and its allies cannot map the full scope of the Iranian program or verify it.
In fact, there is not a single aspect of Iran’s nuclear program that has stopped advancing. On the contrary, they are making progress by leaps and bounds.
When Stephanapolous played the sceptic and asked Obama whether he could get the deal through Congress, Obama said he was “confidant that if we reach a deal that is verifiable and assures that Iran does not have breakout capacity, not only can I persuade Congress but I can persuade the American people that it’s the right thing to do.”
The problem is, no one believes that is what this deal will accomplish, including the French and German foreign ministers who took part in the months-long farce in Vienna, Austria that gave birth to yet another extension of talks.
Former CIA Director General Michael Hayden told Congress last week that without an “invasive inspections regime” attached to any deal, “I am unwilling to guarantee American intelligence can sufficiently verify the agreement on its own.”
That’s a pretty damning admission. Given the track record so far – massive U.S. and Western concessions on sanctions relief and enrichment, and no meaningful concessions on Iran’s side – it’s unlikely such an inspection regime will ever exist.
Former U.S. Ambassador Eric Edelman told a Washington, DC conference last week that the Western powers have been in “serial retreat” on their negotiating demands toward Iran since the EU-3 first started unsuccessful talks in 2003.
At the start of the current process, one year ago, Secretary of State John Kerry was still talking about “dismantling” Iran’s centrifuge enrichment program.
But in the first stage of talks, the P5+1 (US., UK, France, Russia, China + Germany) swept that demand off the table, caving into Iran’s demand that the great powers recognize a supposed “right to enrich,” which I and others argue Iran forfeited in the mid-2000s when the United Nations Security Council passed resolutions condemning Iran for violating its commitments under the Nonproliferation treaty.
Why would Iran agree to make meaningful concessions when the United States continues to back off its demands and to throw away its trump card: the complex tissue of U.S. and multilateral sanctions that had crippled Iran’s economy and brought it to the negotiating table in the first place?
The Economist published a series of revealing economic charts on the impact of the Iran sanctions in its November 1st edition, drawing on sources from the Economist Intelligence Unit, the Energy Information Administration, the Statistical Centre of Iran, and the Central Bank of Iran.
Once crippling oil and financial sanctions imposed in 2010-2011 began to kick in, Iran’s economy went into a freefall. Iran’s GDP has been gradually expanding for several years. In 2012, the economy went into full recession, retracting by 6%. Consumer prices skyrocketed by 40%, as did the youth unemployment rate. Vehicle production plunged, the currency collapsed, while both imports and exports declined dramatically.
By all accounts, the halving of Iran’s oil exports – a much greater impact than most analysts had expected – resulted in bringing Iran to the table.
But now, all of that is changing.
Mark Dubowitz, of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, estimates that real sanctions relief over the first year of negotiations was close to $20 billion – far more than the administration has claimed.
“The Geneva process has turned around Iran’s economy,” he told a Washington, DC conference last week. As a result, “their nuclear intransigence has increased, not decreased.”
Former IAEA nuclear safeguards chief Olli Heinonen told the same conference that the negotiations were “rewarding Iran for its past bad behavior,” and set a “bad example for future proliferators.”
The Iranians “will just lie their faces off to get a bomb,” Senator Mark Kirk (R,IL) added.
On Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry declared in Vienna that a final agreement, to be negotiated in the coming months, would “close off all the pathways for Iran to get fissile material for a nuclear weapon.”
The formula was designed to meet a key criterion set down by Democrats in the House and Senate, such as Florida Rep. Ted Deutch, who agree with their Republican colleagues that Congress must set a high threshhold for what an acceptable deal must look like.
For these security-minded Democrats, an acceptable nuclear deal “must dismantle Iran’s centrifuge program to prevent Iran from becoming a threshold nuclear state, create robust verification and monitoring mechanisms to prevent undetectable breakout, force Iran to come clean on its past nuclear activities including possible military dimensions and cover a long enough duration that the regime won’t simply ‘wait it out.’”
If a deal along these lines cannot be reached, “Congress must make clear to Iran that sanctions will be ratcheted up dramatically at the end of the extension period,” he added.
The problem is, Obama has no intention of letting that happen, and has made it clear he will remove additional sanctions by the stroke of his Executive Order pen or by issuing waivers to legislative sanctions. (On pages 5-7 of his excellent testimony before Congress last week, FDD’s Dubowitz outlines “the administration’s plan to circumvent Congress” through executive branch sanctions relief).
Die-hard Obama loyalists in Congress, such as Virginia Democrat Gerry Connolly, argue that a bad nuclear agreement is better than no agreement. “Beware making the perfect the enemy of the good,” he said last week. “Without an agreement, we are condemning the world to a conflict with Iran.”
That in the end is Obama’s hammer. He will accuse anyone who opposes his massive concessions to Iran as a war-mongerer – a charge that Rep. Ted Deutch has tried to tackle head on. “Those who oppose a bad deal do not support a ‘march to war,’ but refuse an agreement that allows Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon,” he said.
Want to bet what Obama will be saying about him when he and Kerry finally reveal the terms of the bad deal they want Congress to approve? “They’ve red-teamed this. They will paint their opponents as war-mongers,” Dubowitz says.
Get ready to enter Obama’s parallel universe.
Like Hassan ibn Saba, leader of the 11th century hashish cult fictionalized by novelist Vladimir Bartol, Obama believes himself to be a master of illusion. If you can make people believe the illusion, then the illusion becomes reality. Perception is everything.
So here we go. Obama wants us to watch his hands and repeat after him: Iran is not a threat. We have stopped Iran’s nuclear weapons development. Iran is our ally against ISIS. Iran is a rational regime.
It’s up to us and to Congress to break the spell. Don’t look at his hands but at the fire burning just behind him.
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