Publius / July 1, 2015

This Just In: Talks With Iran to Continue Past Deadline

Team Obama wants a deal really, really bad.

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: Iran and the P5+1 have blown through yet another deadline for reaching a final agreement over Iran’s nuclear program. U.S. and international officials confirmed Tuesday that the negotiations would be extended past June 30 to July. Of course, July 9 is the key date, as that is when Congress goes from having 30 days to consider a final deal to having 60 days. As always, Team Obama is loath to let anyone examine the fine print too closely, so they will try everything in the playbook to get something on paper before the 9th in order to minimize Congress’ ability to stop this approaching train wreck.

After nearly a year and a half of talks (and that’s just this round), there remain two key sticking points that we earnestly hope will derail any deal. The first is sanctions relief. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and various Iranian officials have said repeatedly that Iran wants all sanctions lifted immediately upon reaching an agreement. This should be a complete non-starter even for legacy-seeking Barack Obama and his feckless Secretary of State John Kerry — not to mention every member of Congress, Republican and Democrat alike.

The gap between what Iran wants and what the P5+1 can accept appears unbridgeable. For this reason more than any other we have expressed guarded optimism over the last year that no deal would be reached, because Obama would not be able to give away the farm — no matter how much he wants to. At the same time, he and Kerry clearly want a deal and they want it bad, even if it is bad. Which is why the goalposts keep moving toward Iran.

The second sticking point is verification. Without a highly intrusive inspection program, no deal will or should be acceptable. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) simply must have the ability to inspect any nuclear site, anywhere, any time. Anything less would allow Iran to continue its cheating and obfuscating that led us to this impasse in the first place.

The inspection regime also must cover any Iranian facility discovered in the future. Recall that the Fordow underground site’s existence was not known when the nuclear standoff began in 2003, and that Iran has hidden nuclear weapons research at military bases in the past. Iran’s leaders have protested against this key provision, and the Supreme Leader has openly refused access to military sites. The IAEA does not need access to all military sites in Iran, but every single Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps site must be open to inspection — period.

We are, we hope, nearing the end of the road in the negotiation with Iran. Either the mullahs will accept inspections and phased sanctions relief, or the farce will come to an end and both sides will go back to the situation that existed in 2013: six UN Security Council resolutions imposing sanctions still in force; U.S. and European sanctions still in force; Iran largely unable to do business through international banking, shipping and insurance channels; Iran unable to import weapons; and Iran’s economy still crippled, preventing large-scale sponsorship of proxies throughout the region.

It’s probably too much to hope that the current administration would be willing to press Iran very hard in that case, but at least the next U.S. president won’t be able to claim that diplomacy still needs months or years to work.

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