The administration, just a couple months after promising up one side and down another that it could within six months reach a final deal with the Iranians, is now openly admitting a final deal will take a year or more. The New York Times reports: "Talks with Iran over a permanent agreement on its nuclear program begin on Tuesday in Vienna, but there is little immediate optimism over a negotiation that is expected to last up to a year." Even with a year to work with, Secretary of State John F. Kerry has said publicly it is more likely than not that negotiations will fail.
All of this is a far cry from chief negotiator Wendy Sherman's promise in closed-door briefings and testimony before Congress. Again and again, she's advised members of Congress, in her effort to hold off sanctions, that lawmakers just needed to give her six months.
Apparently that changed — or was never true. It is not simply on the timing where the administration has played bait-and-switch. The administration began fully committed to enforcing the United Nations resolutions that prohibit any enrichment by Iran. Somehow that position was given away for nothing in return; the administration now talks about allowing the rogue state "limited enrichment" for a limited time (and thereafter all bets are off, apparently).
So what is Congress to do now that the administration's broken promises and Iran's statement reveal a giant stall? The problem is not the American people, who overwhelmingly favor preventing Iran from going nuclear even if it requires use of force. It is Congress that must have the gumption to, if need be, defy the White House. Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, who has been intimately involved with crafting sanctions legislation, tells me, "With the Obama administration opposing the new Senate and House legislation, senators need to find some way to signal to markets and to Iran that Congress will not accept endless negotiations, the unraveling of the sanctions regime that took so long to establish and a nuclear deal that does not stop Iran's nuclear weapons breakout capacity." But, especially if talks are going to drag on, it may be too late for sanctions. He cautions, "While the current legislation could be effective in reversing market psychology if the sanctions-in-waiting provisions were passed today, these sanctions may be insufficient in six to 12 months' time if there is no conclusive nuclear agreement and if Iran is on the path to a sustained economic recovery."
That means that even if the administration has no back-up plan, Congress has to develop one. Dubowitz advises, "If there is no final agreement, and Tehran successfully uses the interim period to advance this work, it could move more quickly to a nuclear weapons breakout, and Washington will have lost critical economic leverage. At that point, we will need a complete financial and trade embargo implemented within weeks since Iranian nuclear physics will have far outpaced Western economic pressure. The administration and Congress need to begin working on this strategy immediately."