January 27, 2015

Obama Joins Iran in Opposing Sanctions

He thinks reaching a deal is more important than the content of the deal.

In case there were any remaining doubters, Barack Obama’s remarks on Iran during his State of the Union speech last week made it perfectly clear he believes reaching a deal is more important than the content of the deal. But he’s facing increasing opposition in Congress – even from his own party.

Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) have co-sponsored a bill that would ramp up the sanctions pressure on Iran, rightly judging that Iran has no reason to cooperate absent significant outside pressure. Even Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) may hop on board. The president threatened to veto any such legislation, claiming new sanctions “will all but guarantee diplomacy fails, alienating America from its allies and ensuring Iran starts up its nuclear program again.”

> Update, Wed., Jan. 28: Menendez and several other Democrats promised to give Obama two more months before voting on sanctions.

Perhaps it has escaped Obama’s attention that we have already alienated our key Middle East allies and friends when it comes to Iran, including Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. They all look with growing alarm at Iran’s progress toward nuclear capability at a time when Iran is expanding and consolidating its influence throughout the region. Yemen’s government could not be reached for comment, having just been toppled by Iranian-backed Houthi militants. Israel’s government will soon speak when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a joint session of Congress, despite petulant objections from the White House.

Perhaps it also eluded Obama’s notice that Iran cannot “re-start” its nuclear program – because it has never been stopped. Iran retains all the components needed to produce nuclear weapons, a situation the current Joint Plan of Action essentially concedes to Iran. Despite five different UNSC Resolutions between 2006 and 2010 requiring Iran to cease uranium enrichment activities, Iran has not only continued those activities but has dramatically increased its enrichment infrastructure.

Despite the president’s claim that we have “reduced [Iran’s] supply of nuclear material,” we have in fact done no such thing. Iran has merely changed the chemical composition of some of its nuclear material, a process that is reversible at any time. Despite UN insistence that Iran halt work on the heavy water reactor at Arak, it is now physically complete and ready for initial testing.

After 12 years of lying, cheating, threatening, obfuscating and general misbehavior, Iran still faces no serious impediment to its nuclear program. U.S. and European sanctions targeting Iran’s oil industry – virtually the sole source of Iran’s economy – had been the only successful means of gaining cooperation from Tehran. But sanctions were cast aside just as they were showing real results, and the prospect of restoring them seems remote.

With oil prices the lowest they have been in years, Iran’s economy is showing signs of extreme stress even without sanctions. Restoring sanctions would thus be even more effective today than when they were imposed in 2013. But with a president apparently determined to achieve literally any deal he can get, don’t hold your breath on new U.S. sanctions – or any change in Iran’s behavior.

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