After more than 20 years of sanctions against Iran concerning its illicit nuclear program, President Barack Obama has not only precipitously squandered the international community’s economic leverage, but he has also collapsed diplomatic isolation of Iran that had been built up by Congress, six U.N Security Council resolutions and multiple presidents. Now, following over 18 months of nuclear talks, Obama is poised to legitimize the very pathway to a nuclear weapon he promised the American people for years that he would prevent.
The “framework of understanding” announced by the P5+1 and the Islamic Republic of Iran in Lausanne on April 2 represents a series of dangerous capitulations by the U.S. on key aspects of Iran’s nuclear program and a damaging betrayal of long-stated American policy. Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif was grinning from ear to ear at the announcement; however, in our allies’ capitals throughout the Middle East, the response was much less celebratory.
As reported on the day of the announcement, the “understanding” is not a final accord; neither side is bound by its terms. And within hours, Zarif was already accusing the West of lying, overstating Iran’s obligations and shading the rapid pace of Iran’s coming cash and prizes. While many details that could derail a comprehensive agreement remain to be negotiated, the reality of what was announced is deeply alarming and signifies a dramatic weakening of the positions America held for decades.
Iran entered these negotiations as an international pariah state. As the regime pursued its illicit nuclear program, its economy was crumbling under the weight of crippling economic sanctions. When Obama originally opened these talks, the country was six months from bankruptcy and that pressure could have been used to dismantle Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.
However, the Iranians’ shrewd negotiation tactics completely unraveled the original U.S. goal of absolutely no enrichment in Iran. According to the new framework, Iran now stands to operate over 6,000 of the 9,000 centrifuges spinning today. Instead of dismantling Iran’s plutonium plant, now Iran can produce plutonium more slowly. And once the final accord expires, Tehran will be able to build unlimited plutonium reactors.
Obama said a final agreement will not be based on trust. But the entire framework seems to hinge on asking Americans to trust the Iranians not to cheat, and trusting that the Administration knows better than Congress.
Obama said that Congress has an important role to play. He welcomed a vigorous debate about the agreement, but in the same breath warned that if Congress scuttles the deal, then America will be blamed for failed diplomacy. Let’s hope Congress sees this message for what it is: pure politics.
Only Congress can unwind the sanctions it has imposed under the law. And only Congress at this point can ensure that the United States does not pave Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon.
Joshua S. Block is President & CEO of The Israel Project.