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, after more than 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 United States on key aspects of Iran’s nuclear program, and a damaging betrayal of long-stated American policy and U.S. allies. Iran 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 it 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 crippling economic sanctions. When Obama originally opened these talks, the country was six months from bankruptcy. 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 more than 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.
Under the framework, Iran will keep the underground enrichment bunker buried under a mountain on an Iranian Revolutionary Guard base at Fordo. We are assured that they won’t be enriching uranium. Instead, Iran will conduct advanced centrifuge research, working on faster generations of machines accelerating the regime’s ability to rapidly enrich bomb fuel. And at the accord’s end, Iran will be able to legitimately operate its underground enrichment lair largely impervious to aerial bombardment.
Iran — the world’s leading state sponsor of terror, which bullies and brutalizes its own people — is poised to emerge from a final agreement with its nuclear program largely intact and capable of expanding to unlimited size in as little as 10 years. Iran will continue to hang gay people from cranes, stone women to death for being raped and help Syrian President Bashar al-Assad slaughter hundreds of thousands, all while seeking to extend its hegemony beyond the four Arab capitals it already controls. And Iran will do so with international legitimacy.
The president 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 trust that the administration knows better than Congress.
The president told the American public that Iran will be subjected to “unprecedented verification.” It remains to be seen, however, if inspectors will have truly unfettered access to all of Iran’s nuclear sites. Iran has proven itself to be the best in the world at delaying and avoiding these inspections. And the framework allows Iran to retain most of the critical elements of its military-nuclear structure, a critical area of suspicion that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been demanding to access for years.
Supporters of the framework agreement argue that the United States essentially has two options: accept this deal, or prepare for war with Iran. But there is a clear alternate path: using increased economic and political pressure to achieve an agreement that transparently strips Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons.
From the Rose Garden, 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 and CEO of the Israel Project.