The interim agreement supposedly reached at the beginning of April gave the Iranians a great deal of concessions the U.S. had suggested were off the table. But it left a number of issues still unresolved. There was no public agreed-upon text, just fact sheets released by the respective sides, and the gaps between them are substantial.
It was unclear, for instance, whether the signing of a final deal will trigger immediate, and maybe even complete, sanctions relief. Iran said that was the plan, while the White House said sanctions should be phased out. But then, last Friday, President Obama suggested the U.S. would allow substantial immediate sanctions relief — some $50 billion worth, potentially — on the day a final deal is signed. In return, he insisted, the sanctions will be “snapped back” if Iran is caught cheating. Yet that is hardly sufficient: Russia and China are known to be wary of a snapback policy, and a punishing sanctions regime can’t be reconstructed quickly or unilaterally.
Meanwhile, the White House has said that inspectors will have unrestricted access to any sites where there is suspicious activity, but an Iranian general remarked this past weekend that no inspections will be allowed at any military base.
President Obama has a proven track record of resolving such disputes — he just gives the Iranians what they want. It is still no sure thing that the remaining gaps between our negotiators and the Iranians can be bridged, but it falls to Congress to ensure that President Obama can’t resolve them as he is accustomed. Congressmen of both parties remain skeptical of the outlined deal. The confusion over what the interim outline meant has only strengthened the case that the White House cannot be trusted with reaching a final deal, and more concessions should further worry hawkish Democrats.
So what can be done? The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has unanimously passed a bill sponsored by Senator Bob Corker that would give Congress a period in which to approve or disapprove of a final deal.
It is a weak measure — the president retains plenty of flexibility and rejecting a deal will require two-thirds of both houses — but it is better than nothing. President Obama had clearly hoped never to have to send the text of an agreement to Congress. Now, even though it looks unlikely that 13 Democrat senators will vote against a final deal, Obama does have to send it to Congress, making the terms public. That is something.
But Congress should do more — indeed, all it can to signal its disapproval of the ongoing Obama concessions and to destabilize the agreement before it can be finalized. Opponents of the drift of the negotiations should push, again, for a measure along the lines of the Kirk-Menendez legislation, which would reinstate sanctions if talks drag on. They should pass resolutions making it clear that a congressional majority disapproves of a deal that lifts sanctions immediately, or a deal that doesn’t allow for any-time, anywhere inspections, or a deal that doesn’t guarantee that enriched uranium is shipped out of Iran (which is yet another point of confusion). The time for all of this is now.
If the negotiations with Iran were not all along a dangerous farce, President Obama’s desperation for a deal has made them so. Only an agreement that dismantles Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, pushing it back from being a threshold nuclear state, is worth making. That hasn’t been on the table for months now. Congress should make clear its opposition to a deal where the terms are far, far worse, and do all it can to keep it from happening.
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