Analysis: Facing the facts on the Iran agreement
John Adams once remarked, “Facts are stubborn things.” Since the P5+1 Joint Plan of Action on the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Nuclear Program was signed in Geneva in November, the White House has encountered two difficult truths about the Iranian regime.
Rouhani’s clever manipulation of U.S. negotiators ended Tehran’s isolation and secured valuable time and resources in return for empty promises designed to further the regime’s nuclear objectives.
And the mullahs have no intention of dialing back their nuclear weapons program.
As the White House rolls the dice on a permanent pact and embraces the failed strategy of appeasement, Congress would be wise to place a check on the administration’s naïve unwillingness to acknowledge the facts.
A nuclear compromise with Tehran will surrender the peace, not secure it.
The President’s recent State of the Union address was full of calls for action, but not on Iran where he signaled the possible failure of ongoing negotiations and channeled Jimmy Carter by treating the regime as a fixture of the Middle East landscape.
The remarks reinforced an emerging consensus in Washington that Obama is being outmaneuvered and will bequeath his successor a new nuclear power.
Fareed Zakaria noted last year that the American public has generally given the president high marks on global matters but questioned the character of Obama’s foreign policy:
“Most Presidents gain fame and respect in this realm because of some large-scale project… While Obama has accomplishments to his credit, the signature trait that has helped him steer the country well – and receive credit for it – is what he has not done.”
The U.S. policy of engagement with the Iranian regime at the expense of concerns raised by key allies – including Israel and Saudi Arabia – has chilled U.S. relations with global partners and strengthened Tehran’s hand in ongoing discussions with the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany.
Iranian interpretations of the interim agreement have somehow preserved the domestic perks of the arrangement – including access to currency and the lifting of sanctions – while necessitating few of the actual obligations that would serve regional security interests.
Almost three months after signing the interim agreement, the Iranian nuclear program is not “halted” as the president suggested in his SOTU speech. Nor is it required to “eliminate” its stockpile of 20 percent-enriched Uranium.
In fact uranium enriched at under 20 percent weapons grade levels is likely to grow in the short term and the regime continues to advance their nuclear infrastructure while world powers dither.
A senior Iranian official responsible for nuclear negotiations acknowledged that reversals to the nuclear program to date could be undone in as little as a day. Rouhani too has gone on the record with his unwillingness to dismantle centrifuges. Suggestions that such rhetoric is meant for domestic Iranian consumption belies the international syndicates to which the disclosures have been made.
Here’s what Congress can and must do in the weeks ahead:
Pass The Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act: The lifting of sanctions gave life to a regime suffering from political and economic isolation and massive internal discontent. Parliamentary maneuvers and White House opposition must not be allowed to get in the way of bipartisan legislation – The Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act – that would guarantee the regime pays a cost for breaching diplomatic agreements. It would also increase the penalties should Tehran renege on the Joint Plan of Action agreed to in Geneva. Passage of the bill will not derail the negotiations but rather incentivize good faith discussions.
The 59 co-sponsors of the legislation – more than half of the U.S. Senate – should increase the pressure on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to bring the measure to the floor for prompt consideration. Those who oppose the legislation should be forced to go public with their opposition and the logic of their support for existing Iran policy should be scrutinized.
Protect the intelligence capabilities of the Iranian opposition: The most useful human intelligence on Iranian nuclear activities is likely to come from the three-thousand Iranian dissidents, known as the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), who are detained at Camp Liberty in Iraq and their global network of supporters. The group has a long track record of providing valuable intelligence on Tehran’s nuclear program and is responsible for the disclosures that prompted the first round of global sanctions.
An iran Policy Committee study suggests that Tehran pays more attention to the MEK than all other opposition groups combined. The group is a member of the democratic opposition’s Paris-based de facto parliament in exile – The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).
Unsurprisingly, Tehran’s proxies – including Iraqi security forces – attacked the Iranian dissidents in Iraq repeatedly between 2009-2013. The hits resulted in the wholesale slaughter of hundreds of unarmed political dissidents, in violation of Geneva conventions and in spite of U.S. promises to protect.
There were also four rockets attacks on Camp Liberty in 2013 alone. Today, the safety of seven hostages – including six women – remains unclear in spite of global condemnation.
The U.S. Congress must take up legislation to protect those detained at Camp Liberty and ensure their safe transfer to locations outside of Iraq. Any larger accord with the regime on the nuclear issue must involve the safe and prompt resettlement of the three thousand refugees whose sustained political opposition and willingness to provide valuable intelligence on Tehran’s nuclear program has placed them in the regime’s cross hairs.
Investigate the regime’s Washington lobby: The U.S. Congress can launch formal and informal investigations to identify ties between the regime’s Washington lobby and U.S. policymakers. Tehran’s apologists in the U.S. should not be in a position to drive legislative considerations, influence policy, or curtail security interests.
Now is the time for Congress to do what the White House has failed to do and stiffen the penalties on Iranian non-compliance, address human rights issues, enhance intelligence collection through reliance on those with access to key information, and increase the pressure on the Iranian regime.
Dr. Ivan Sascha Sheehan is director of the graduate programs in Negotiation and Conflict Management and Global Affairs and Human Security in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Baltimore.