Critics of the president's feeble Iran policy have known all along this was coming. If the report in the New York Times is accurate, the president is about to countenance a nuclear-armed Iran. The administration doesn't put it that way, and the Times is compliant enough not to mention it directly, but that is precisely what is entailed: "On the eve of a new round of talks between world powers and Iran, a senior Obama administration official said Wednesday that the United States was prepared to offer Iran limited relief from economic sanctions if Tehran agreed to halt its nuclear program and reversed part of it." The planned "relief" is to last six months, much longer than some experts believe is needed for Iran to go nuclear.
So the Iranians, if Obama gets his way, will have achieved what they want — relief from sanctions and months to complete what some experts say will take only weeks: the achievement of a nuclear weapons capability. The Times buried the lede, but did allow, "Time is of the essence, nuclear experts have said, because Iran's nuclear program has advanced to the point where it could quickly produce enough enriched material for a nuclear device." A conservative foreign policy expert who has warned against the impending nuclear breakout by Iran retorted, "So the Obama administration is conspiring with Tehran to stop Congress from imposing sanctions on Iran."
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is having none of this. He announced, "We've crafted an amendment to freeze the administration in and make it so they are unable to reduce the sanctions unless certain things occur. They have the ability now to waive sanctions. But we're very concerned that in their desire to make any deal that they may in fact do something that is very bad for our country." It is remarkable, really, that Congress has to prevent Obama from giving away the store, but there has certainly been broad bipartisan support for keeping and extending sanctions. Corker and his colleagues seem fully cognizant of what is at risk here. ("This would keep an interim deal from happening unless there is actual tangible changes that take place.")
As bizarre as this might seem, the president certainly could veto such a measure so he can make a deal with the mullahs. I suppose he might try to defy a bipartisan coalition, but then a bipartisan coalition to override a veto could put a halt to his shenanigans.
The deal, as reported, violates the principles the president and Secretary of State John Kerry have laid out. Former deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams told me, "Any deal with Iran must fit within the administration's own acknowledgment that 'a bad deal is worse than no deal.' An interim deal that freezes only portions of Iran's program does not prevent Iran's nuclear surge; instead it allows Iran's program to continue to grow. [Iranian President Hassan] Rouhani himself has proudly claimed that this is what he achieved in the past." Abrams explained, "If the terms allow Iran to keep all its 18,000 centrifuges, and all its 3.5 percent-enriched uranium, and continue to enrich uranium, and keep the Arak plutonium facility intact, that's a bad deal. Iran's breakout ability remains the same; it is not really further from a bomb." Indeed it might be worse than even the Times report lets on. Abrams cautioned, "As I understand the proposed deal, there is, in addition, no mechanism for verification, so even the partial freeze may not be honored. We should not lift sanctions in any way for such a bad deal. We should insist on terms that clearly and verifiably keep Iran further away from a bomb."
Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies has been directly involved in crafting sanctions legislation. He pointed out troubling language in a background briefing given by negotiator Wendy Sherman: "Put simply, what we're looking for now is a first phase, a first step, an initial understanding that stops Iran's nuclear program from moving forward for the first time in decades, and that potentially rolls part of it back." Potentially. Dubowitz argued, "I think it's the word 'potentially' that stands out. When you're weak, you're weak. The problem is that an interim nuclear deal may only delay Iranian nuclear breakout by a month or so. And while the Obama administration may spin this as time to allow for a final deal that increases break-out time, the administration will pay too high a price by blocking new sanctions from ever seeing the light of day . . . Obama has already bent to Iranian pressure. He has blocked new sanctions in exchange for no nuclear concessions. If that's not sanctions relief, I don't know what is."