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A Better Iran Nuke Deal Possible? Yes and No

Pressuring Congress as its September vote approaches, President Obama says it is pure folly to think a better nuclear agreement with Iran can be negotiated. He is absolutely right. This deal is the best we can do—unless a new team is fielded to renegotiate.

 We had tremendous leverage going into the negotiations due to tough sanctions bleeding Iran’s economy dry. However, in this high-stakes poker game, Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry naively revealed their hand. All leverage was lost once the Iranians sensed how desperately a deal was wanted.

 If Congress were to mandate new negotiations, a new U.S. team would need relieve Tehran of perceptions that gave its negotiators an upper hand.

 Renegotiation success would turn on two factors: (1) Bringing in a hard-nosed lead negotiator and (2) Cutting off the monthly $700 million lifeline payment Tehran receives from Obama to keep negotiations going—payments now totaling over $10 billion.

 Negotiators’ relative motivations also are skewed in Iran’s favor. Our president’s legacy is on the line for the U.S. team; for Iran’s, their lives undoubtedly are, should they bring home an unsatisfactory deal. But cutting off additional cashflow, further tightening the economic noose around the theocracy’s neck, might help it recognize playing hardball only endangers its own survival.

 In our negotiations with Tehran, we fielded a “JV team” against an Iranian varsity viewing weak U.S. negotiators as a “gift from Allah.” The result was a one-sided agreement favoring Iran that abandoned the original goals set by Obama before negotiations started. Should Congress demand renegotiations, unlike Obama’s “hope and change” presidential campaign, Iranian negotiators will “hope for no change” in our team’s line-up.

 Members of Congress, including those from Obama’s own party, are calling for renegotiations. One is a senator with 23 years experience on both the House and Senate Foreign Relations Committees, having a solid 98% pro-Obama voting record.

 But, recognizing this deal represents one of the most “momentous” national security issues of our time, Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) puts party loyalty aside, rendering the right decision. In an August 28 th speech at Seton Hall University, Menendez announced he would not support the Iran nuclear agreement, clearly and concisely explaining why.

 His analysis began by revisiting Obama’s originally stated purpose for the agreement. “Simply put,” Menendez said, “ it was to dismantle all—or significant parts—of Iran’s illicit nuclear infrastructure to ensure that it would not have nuclear weapons capability at any time.”

 Thus, the purpose was not to shrink or limit but fully dismantle Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. “At the end of the day,” he argues, “what we appear to have is a roll back of sanctions” while Iran need not dismantle nor roll back—but only “mothball” for ten years—its nuclear capability.

 Menendez had done his homework, reporting how the mullahs have used “deceit, deception and delay” to advance “their nuclear program to the point it is a threshold nuclear state” falsely claiming “peaceful” intent.

 He clearly was upset too by misrepresentations, made by the Obama Administration during negotiations, to him and other congressional leaders. When he queried Kerry about dismantling Iran’s nuclear site at Arak, he was assured, “They will either dismantle it or we will destroy it.” To Menendez, Kerry’s words showed backbone—one that transformed to jelly based on the final agreement.

 Menendez voiced concerns too about lifting sanctions to “allow billions of dollars (at least 150 of them) to flow back into Iran’s economy”—a cash infusion equal to 20% of Iran’s GDP—further funding its Middle East de-stabilization efforts. Unbelievably, the Obama Administration, acknowledging some money will go to underwriting the leading state sponsor of terrorism’s terrorist activities, is unbothered by this.

 Menendez tells us Obama’s claim the deal permanently prevents Iran from gaining a nuclear weapons capability is not true. Not only sanctioning a future capability, it abandons “our long-held policy (for seven decades) of preventing nuclear proliferation.” We are renouncing proliferation, satisfied just to manage or contain it. Meanwhile, we reward Iran for violating its Non-Proliferation Treaty commitments.

It was disturbing too for Menendez to seek answers from the Iranians to questions U.S. negotiators would not directly address. Concerning “snapback” provisions for re-imposing sanctions in the future should Iran violate the agreement, only by asking Iran’s U.N. ambassador did Menendez learn Tehran can claim any snapback by the U.S. is a violation of the deal, walking away from it. Why was Team Obama not forthcoming about this? 

 Menendez was concerned too about Iran “coming clean about the possible military dimensions (PMD) of its nuclear program” and the absence of agreement terms demanding this. It makes a decade long issue—the inspection of Iran’s Parchin nuclear site where weaponization R&D is believed to have taken place and evidence of same may still be recoverable in the soil and elsewhere despite Tehran’s efforts to sanitize it—most important.

 So, how does the agreement resolve it? Unbelievably, instead of demanding international inspectors direct access to collect samples, a somewhat convoluted inspection plan allows Iran to provide them! As Menendez suggests, this irresponsibly places the chain of custody for the samples into the hands of the alleged perpetrator—comparable to allowing “an athlete accused of using performance enhancing drugs (to) submit an unsupervised urine sample to the appropriate authority.” 

One former nuclear weapons inspector advised Menendez, such “an agreement that sidesteps the military issues would risk being unverifiable…because it makes a difference if you are 90 percent down the road in your weaponization efforts or only ten percent.” That intelligence significantly impacts on determining “breakout time”—the amount of time Tehran needs after terminating (or—more likely—violating) the deal to develop a nuclear weapons capability. 

 Kerry dismisses such criticism about the need for a Parchin inspection, outrageously claiming we have “absolute knowledge” about Iran’s PMD. He should know otherwise. After all, in 2002 then Senator Kerry relied upon similarly claimed knowledge about Saddam Hussein’s weapons-of-mass destruction to support the Iraq war.

 Former CIA Director General Michael Hayden also disputes this assertion as defying historical experience. As Director, Hayden never saw any intelligence capability to support such certainty, saying of Kerry, “he’s pretending we have perfect knowledge…For me, the administration’s willingness to forgo a critical element of Iran’s weaponization—past and present—is inexplicable.”

 Hayden questions U.S. willingness to accept a process “only exacerbated by the inability to obtain anytime, anywhere inspections”—represented earlier by Obama as critical to any deal. Why not so now?

 In an effort to further pressure Congress, Obama and Kerry suggest rejecting the deal leaves war as the only other option. It is an interesting argument since two high profile Obama Administration supporters of the deal, Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden, were Iraq war supporters themselves while Menendez was not. Having demonstrated cautious restraint then, Menendez voices a call for renegotiation now to make it clear to Iran its nuclear ambitions are impermissible.

 In closing, Menendez reminds us what this deal was supposed to do but does not:

 “The agreement that has been reached failed to achieve the one thing it set out to achieve—it failed to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons state at a time of its choosing. In fact, it authorizes and supports the very road map Iran will need to arrive at its target.”

 Noting the agreement relies on Team Obama’s “hope” that a decade from now things will change in Tehran so the “Death to America” chant no longer is in vogue, Menendez observes “hope…is not a national security strategy.”

 On August 5th, Obama symbolically chose to defend his nuclear deal at American University where President John F. Kennedy gave his famous 1963 speech calling for peace and nuclear disarmament . A Kennedy admirer, Obama should heed what The Washington Post suggests is Kennedy’s best leadership quote: “Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer.” 

Instead of denigrating critics like Menendez, suggesting they are supporting Israel or playing politics, Obama should hope they are following their conscience in pursuing “the right answer.”

 After extensive soul-searching, Menendez has, concluding, “if Iran is to acquire a nuclear bomb, it will not have my name on it.”

 Come September’s congressional vote on the agreement, we shall see who does.

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