Foes of an Iran nuclear deal refocus on containing the damage
Realizing they cannot prevent an interim nuclear deal from being reached in Geneva, opponents now are looking to ensure that a 'bad deal' doesn't open a door to Iran getting a nuclear weapon.
Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone/AP
Opponents and skeptics of an interim nuclear deal being negotiated with Iran are gearing up to ensure that what they fear will be a â€śbad dealâ€ť does not become the means through which Iran obtains a nuclear weapon.
Deal naysayers acknowledge that neither Congress nor the vociferous protestations of a high-profile critic like Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can scuttle an accord that world powers agree upon. So attention is already turning to ways to ensure that Iran face immediate consequences if it fails to abide by the provisions of any such agreement.
The six world powers meeting with Iran in Geneva reported no progress Thursday in narrowing the remaining differences between the two sides, while some Iranian officials suggested that if anything the gaps might have widened since the two sides last met earlier this month.
But that apparent lack of progress did not stop some members of Congress from meeting with administration officials at the White House to express their misgivings. At least one Republican senator announced that he was proposing legislation to force the immediate reinstatement of any lightened sanctions on Iran upon any evidence of Iran not abiding by the terms of a first-step deal.
An interim deal with Iran would be designed to freeze progress in Iranâ€™s nuclear program while a comprehensive agreement verifiably stopping Iranâ€™s program short of a nuclear weapon could be worked out. Opponents appear to be most concerned that a short-term plan accepting some level of uranium enrichment â€“ a process that can result in the fuel for a nuclear weaponÂ â€“ would turn into permanent acceptance of Iranâ€™s â€śrightâ€ť to enrich.
â€śThe Iranian nuclear program has been fundamentally a weapons program from the beginning, and I donâ€™t see that changing â€“ certainly not if we go with an interim dealâ€ť that accepts uranium enrichment, says John Bolton, the former US ambassador to the United Nations who is a prominent critic of the Obama administrationâ€™s Iran diplomacy.
Such a deal would be â€śfatally flawed,â€ť he adds, because with the lack of any vision for what a final plan should look like the risks are great that an interim accord â€śbecomes permanentâ€ť â€“ enshrining Iranâ€™s enrichment program and leaving Iran on a path to a nuclear weapon.
Fears that an interim deal could simply evolve into a permanent deal â€“ and one leaving Iran with an operating enrichment program â€“ prompted Sen. Bob Corker, (R) of Tennessee, to introduce legislation Thursday â€śto keep the pressure on Iranâ€ť in the period between a first-step and a final deal.
The bill would put off any additional lifting of sanctions â€“ beyond what the White House says would be â€ślimited and reversibleâ€ť sanctions relief as part of an interim deal â€“ until after Iran agreed to the â€śessential terms of an acceptable final deal,â€ť Senator Corker says. The legislation also calls for any sanctions lifted as part of an interim deal to â€śsnap backâ€ť in the event of any violation of the dealâ€™s obligations, he adds.
In order to get substantial US sanctions relief as part of a final agreement, Iran would have to verifiably â€śeliminate the threat of its nuclear program,â€ť Corker says.
Even as negotiations were under way in Geneva, the White House continued to brief members of Congress in an effort to head off debilitating criticism should a deal be reached.
One member of a delegation invited to the White House Thursday, Rep. Brad Sherman (D) of California, says he â€śremains a skepticâ€ť that a good interim deal is possible. But he says he left the meeting, which he said was attended by 10 Democratic representatives, â€śa little more convinced that they [in the administration] are focused on getting this rightâ€ť and not above all on getting any deal.
Earlier in the day, Representative Sherman had cut short his attendance at a Capitol Hill meeting of Iranian dissidents addressing the plight of Iranian refugees in Iraq, telling a cheering crowd that he had to leave for the White House â€śto convince them not to accept a bad deal in Geneva.â€ť
After the White House meeting, Sherman said, â€śI still fear they would be willing to enter a deal that [to them] would be better than no deal at allâ€ť â€“ echoing a charge leveled against President Obama not just by other members of Congress but also by French leaders, who are also involved in the Geneva talks.
â€śBut after what I heard,â€ť he added, â€śIâ€™m a little less concerned about that than I was before.â€ť
Sherman says a key challenge after an interim deal â€“ and one reason he never favored the idea of a â€śfirst stepâ€ť before a comprehensive agreement â€“ will be the thinking expected to bloom in international business circles â€śthat itâ€™s OK to do business with Iran now.â€ť Â
To battle such trends and to keep the pressure up on Iran, Sherman says he and other members of the House will continue to press the Senate to proceed with considering a new round of sanctions. The point, he says, would be to keep Iran motivated to reach a comprehensive agreement on its nuclear program.
More ardent critics of the administrationâ€™s Iran diplomacy say any rush into a â€śbad dealâ€ť wonâ€™t just leave Iranâ€™s nuclear challenge unaddressed, but could embroil Obama in another losing political battle.
Americans largely favor reaching a diplomatic solution with Iran, polls show, but, critics add, that doesnâ€™t mean that an Iran allowed to continue moving toward a nuclear weapon is acceptable.
â€śI think the administration is set on getting some deal, I think theyâ€™d really like to have an issue that takes the spotlight off of Obamacare for a while,â€ť says Mr. Bolton, now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. â€śBut if they go with a deal with such deficiencies that the opposition here in Washington is swift and sustained, theyâ€™re not going to get that.â€ť