James Baker: Iran Deal is Weak, ‘Needs Work’

Charles Tasnadi/AP Photo
Charles Tasnadi/AP Photo

Former Secretary of State James Baker weighed in on the Iran deal Thursday night. In a piece published by the Wall Street Journal, Baker concludes the deal is weak and badly in need of work.

Baker’s piece praises Secretary Kerry for the “herculean task” of getting the negotiations this far. Nevertheless, he says Iran’s “waffling and re-trading” in four significant areas leave the deal weak.

There remain serious questions about more than the phasing out of sanctions. These include verification mechanisms (including access to Iran’s military bases for inspections); the “snapback” provisions for reapplying sanctions; and Iran’s refusal so far to provide historical information about its nuclear-enrichment program so that there is a baseline against which to measure any future enrichment.

Baker believes the deal can be saved by rallying the P5+1 to “to support non-negotiable positions on the four outstanding questions.” In other words, the U.S. should make clear there is no wiggle room on any of these points and pressure allies to back them up.

That position seems increasingly untenable given events over the past couple weeks. Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei has already weighed in on two of the four points Baker cites, saying that sanctions must be dropped as the deal is implemented and that inspections of military bases will be off limits. Perhaps he could reverse himself, but given the apparent Iranian interest in saving face in the negotiations, Khamenei’s statements leave no wiggle room to claim these positions were uttered by underlings who spoke out of turn.

Similarly, both Iran’s President Rouhani and the Director of its nuclear program stated last week that Iran has never engaged in weapons research. That’s an odd thing to say if Iran plans to come clean on a past research program when the deal is finalized in a matter of months. It seems more likely Iran is doubling-down on claims it has made for years, i.e. denying any program existed despite reams of evidence to the contrary.

As for the snapback santions, there is already mounting evidence that sanctions are falling apart before a deal is even reached. Russia has resumed a previous deal to ship anti-aircraft missiles to Iran, and China is reportedly building Iran a new pipeline for oil.

Baker implies that a failure to get Iran to back down on these four points is cause for the deal to fail. He sees the tough approach–pressing Iran to give in on the four points or back away from the deal–as preferable to where we are now, because a failure now could be seen as America’s fault.

Baker is just the latest former Secretary of State to criticize the Iran deal. Henry Kissinger and George Schultz co-authored an op-ed that was even more critical of the deal last week.


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