By Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post
Monday, 18 January 2016
With the lifting of international sanctions and the influx of more than $100 billion to Iran, the West has lost virtually any leverage it has over Tehran. We have already seen that rather than strictly interpret the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the Obama administration was more than willing, for example, to forgo inspection of military facilities for the sake of keeping the deal in place.
Now, after delaying implementation of sanctions for Iran’s violation of United Nations resolutions on ballistic missile testing, the administration comes out with a gentle slap on the wrist. The New York Times reports these “new, more limited” sanctions apply to discrete individuals and companies: “The new sanctions are mostly aimed at individuals and some small companies accused of shipping crucial technologies to Iran. … The sanctions are so focused on those individuals and firms that most Iranians will never feel them, and the amounts are comparatively tiny.”
The conservative group AR2 argues: “Iran continues to be the real winner of the nuclear agreement, benefitting from the release of sanctions while touting a new missile depot. Recently, Iran showcased an ‘underground missile depot’ that lodged precision-guided missiles, which ‘can take a nuclear warhead and violate a 2010 U.N. Security Council resolution.’ As ‘American allies in the Middle East, including Israel and Saudi Arabia’ have ‘deep suspicion‘ of the relations between the U.S. and Iran, Iran is benefiting from new ‘prestige,’ which surely cannot be ignored as it continues to be involved in regional conflicts in Syria and Yemen.”
We will see if the Senate Democrats and, most important, Hillary Clinton — who have been calling for sanctions in response to the illegal missile tests — are waylaid by this meaningless gesture or if they are anxious to impose a real cost on Iran for missile tests, support for terror, assistance to Bashar al-Assad and the continued disappearance of another American, Robert Levinson. Clinton insists that she wants strict enforcement of the deal and policies to curb Iranian aggression. (On “Meet the Press,” she acknowledged that the Iranians “continue to destabilize governments in the Middle East, they continue to support proxies and terrorist groups like Hezbollah, they continue to threaten Israel, there are a lot of concerns.”) Where are her proposed sanctions, then?
On the GOP side, Donald Trump and Ohio Gov. John Kasich (“I would be meeting with every one of our allies around the world and saying, we’re going to monitor this deal”) have also talked about policing the deal. But the terms of the deal (which allow Iran to reach zero breakout after 10 years, permit research on advanced centrifuges and do not require dismantling of centrifuges) have not permanently halted Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but only emboldened Iran to engage in the type of behavior Clinton described. Having dropped sanctions, the West is unlikely to demand “snapback” for violations (even with generous grandfathering of existing deals). We therefore have the worst of all worlds: Iran’s non-nuclear behavior gets worse, its economy and leverage get stronger, the threat of future sanctions goes way down and there is plenty of room for cheating — in addition to the open door to developing an industrial-size nuclear weapons program in 10 years.
Others, including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), take an entirely different approach:
As President, I will start by beginning to undo the flawed nuclear accord on day one. I will restore the sanctions on Iran in every sector: banking, currency, and oil and energy exports, as well as on insurance, automotive, shipping, and precious metals. I will work with Congress to impose crushing new sanctions on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and Iran’s leadership for its abysmal human rights abuses.
Experience demonstrates that Iran only responds to pressure—the more intense and comprehensive, the better. When I am President, the mullahs in Tehran will face a simple choice: they can keep their nuclear weapons infrastructure, or they can keep their economy—but they cannot keep both.
Congress is not powerless until a new president arrives. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) put out a written statement upon the administration’s lifting of sanctions. “A bipartisan majority in the House voted to reject this deal in the first place, and we will continue to do everything possible to prevent a nuclear Iran.” Well then, perhaps the House and Senate should test Clinton’s sincerity and that of Senate Democrats as well.
Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, is not sitting on his hands either. He reminded the president in a written statement, “Now armed with an initial windfall of more than $100 billion, Iran will have vast new resources to continue sponsoring terrorism, threatening its neighbors, and funding its nuclear and missile programs. The U.S. and our European partners must impose swift and immediate consequences for any violations or acts of Iranian aggression to ensure Tehran will not use the deal as cover to advance its dangerous activities.” Corker added, “The Senate Foreign Relations Committee already is involved in a vigorous oversight process and is considering legislative proposals to ensure Iran continues to be held accountable. We will use all the tools provided by the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act to quickly impose new sanctions should Iran breach the terms of the agreement.”
Congress would be well advised to conduct stringent oversight and to bring to the floor strict, serious sanctions every bit as strenuous as the ones the president just waived in response to Iran’s non-nuclear behavior but also in response to its failure, for example, to allow inspections of military facilities. Congress isn’t bound by the parameters of the president’s executive order and is entitled to pass legislation as it sees fit to force great transparency (for example, in Iran’s supply chain). Let the president veto such measures if he sees fit, and then see if Senate Democrats lose nerve or Clinton parts with the White House.
Over in the GOP presidential race, candidates should be pressed to answer exacting questions:
If Iran does not cheat, would you allow the deal to go forward toward a zero-breakout date?
What sanctions would you pass?
What actions beyond sanctions would you undertake to check Iranian aggression?
How would you address Iranian human rights?
How do you make the threat of military force credible?
For candidates arguing for Bashar al-Assad, Iran’s closest ally, as the alternative to the Islamic State, how do they intend to stop Iran’s quest for regional hegemony?
What are they prepared to do about Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq — all of which are falling, or have fallen, within Iran’s orbit?
The president wanted a nuclear deal at any cost, leaving the mess to his successors. Congress and the presidential contenders now must explain how they are going to clean up the wreckage of our Iran policy and what they intend to put in its place. And if Clinton thinks what we have now is a good deal, why would she be any improvement over President Obama?