Have you heard? We have a deal with Iran, and it’s the best thing ever.
President Obama last week hailed “a good deal, a deal that meets our core objectives,” and his cheerleaders were even more effusive: “The Iran nuclear deal is a historic achievement for U.S. national security,” declared Joe Cirincione of the Ploughshares Fund, the “impact philanthropy” outfit that bankrolls sanguine arms control analysis. It’s an “astonishingly good Iran deal” according to Max Fisher of Vox, the website where error-prone young liberals who overestimate their own intelligence (but never their readers’) purport to “explain the news.”
Except there is no deal. The so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is only comprehensive where it isn’t joint and only joint where it isn’t comprehensive. The fairly detailed summary put out by the Obama administration — the basis of the over-the-top praise — doesn’t match the Persian statement released by Tehran, or even the short English statement that the European Union and Iran released together.
Take the issue of sanctions. The White House fact sheet says, “U.S. and E.U. nuclear-related sanctions will be suspended after the IAEA has verified that Iran has taken all of its key nuclear-related steps.” The EU/Iran joint statement says the EU and the U.S. will terminate sanctions “simultaneously with the IAEA-verified implementation by Iran of its key nuclear commitments.” And the Persian statement says “all of the sanctions will be immediately removed after reaching a comprehensive agreement” (and Iran’s Foreign Minister is rather emphatic on this point).
So which is it? Will sanctions be lifted before, after, or at the same time that Iran complies with the deal? We don’t know, because there is no deal.
The same goes for research on advanced centrifuges that could more quickly enrich uranium: The White House’s fact sheet says “Iran will engage in limited research and development with its advanced centrifuges,” while the Persian fact sheet simply says that “Iran will continue its research and development on advanced [centrifuges].” The joint EU/Iran statement says, “Iran’s research and development on centrifuges will be carried out on a scope and schedule that has been mutually agreed” — but it clearly hasn’t been mutually agreed yet.
The White House fact sheet touts an extensive inspections regime that inspires some of the most gushing praise (it’s the main topic of that Vox article): International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors will have access not only to Iran’s nuclear facilities but to its entire nuclear supply chain from the uranium mines and centrifuge factories on down. But the Iranian fact sheet says, in bold, “Iran will implement the Additional Protocol” — that is, the terms of the IAEA inspection regime — “on a voluntary and temporary basis for the sake of transparency and confidence building,” which doesn’t sound like much of a commitment.
It’s the same story on issue after issue. How long will Iran be restricted from enriching uranium? What exactly will happen to the Islamic Republic’s already extant stockpile of enriched uranium? How will a deal address the so-called “Possible Military Dimension” of the nuclear program? The Obama administration has an answer, with varying degrees of specificity, on each of these questions, but the Iranian version of the story either ignores them or contradicts the White House.
So if there’s no actual agreement on so many key issues, what exactly was the point of the White House’s announcement last week? Simple: To tame Congress. And it’s already worked.
Absent the sign of progress in the negotiations that the JCPOA is supposed to represent, it’s very likely that the Kirk-Menendez sanctions legislation would have passed with a veto-proof supermajority. A group of Democrats led by Robert Menendez had agreed to wait until last week’s deadline to push ahead with the bill, which the White House opposes. Senator Mark Kirk admitted last week that the JCPOA means that Kirk-Menendez is now on ice until at least June, which defeats its purpose: The idea was to have sanctions automatically triggered in June if there isn’t an agreement that meets certain parameters.
That leaves Corker-Menendez, a bill meant to insure Congress weighs in on any deal that Obama signs with Iran. Senator Bob Corker intends to push the bill forward in committee next week, and while Menendez, having just been hit with a (curiously-timed) indictment, might find his ability to rally his fellow Democrats somewhat diminished, support from Chuck Schumer suggests that cobbling together a supermajority might still be possible.
That’s vital, because the non-deal deal, even as the White House presents it, has serious flaws — it seems to give the Islamic Republic a clear path to the bomb in a decade or so even if it lasts that long — and disagreements over the state of negotiations suggest that any deal is only going to get worse. Congress must be ready to enforce the principle that, as President Obama at least pretended to believe until fairly recently, no deal is better than a bad deal.
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