Congress needs to revive its oversight role on Iran policy with greater urgency as the July 20 deadline for a final nuclear deal between the P5+1 and Iran approaches. It has been obvious that the Obama administration has subordinated principles and security interests to a desire to reach a negotiated accommodation with Tehran. We now have further evidence of just how far the administration is willing to bend and a rallying point for greater congressional involvement.
This bit of insight from the NYT’s David Sanger is a major red flag: “American negotiators seem to be steering away from forcing a full historical accounting from the Iranians before any accord is signed, arguing that excavating the past is less important than assuring Iran does not have the raw material to make a weapon.” The administration cannot make a strong case that it has confidence in what the Iranians say if it fails to get an immediate and accurate accounting of the past and full transparency on ongoing weaponization-related activities. Tehran continues to toy with inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) conducting an investigation into Iran’s weaponization activities. It has failed to fully cooperate with the IAEA (dismissing the agency’s vetted information as “fabricated”) and continues to drag its feet in answering questions. The answers that it has given in one technical area – explosive detonators – “have prompted more questions.” This is not the behavior of a regime turning over a new leaf and coming clean.
The Iranians appear equally uncompromising in other key areas. Administration officials apparently told Senate leaders yesterday that Iranian negotiators are still insisting on retaining a uranium enrichment program (e.g. a nuclear weapons capability). They are, in fact, pushing to grow their enrichment capacity by producing 30,000 additional centrifuge machines (they currently have about 20,000 that we know of). What of Iran’s position regarding its plutonium path to a nuclear weapon? As recently as this month, the head of a key Iranian nuclear organization again floated a “redesign” proposal for the Arak heavy water reactor currently under construction. The problem is the proposal would keep the reactor intact and its technical change – reducing the amount of plutonium produced – would be reversible.
Everything the Iranians are saying and doing in these negotiations indicate that Tehran has not fundamentally changed its strategic calculus and does not intend to roll back its nuclear weapons program. It is possible that the administration recognizes this and will not allow itself to be deluded into a bad deal. But the fact that it has already caved on several fronts – ceding enrichment and agreeing to a sunset provision for a “final” deal – suggests that it is unlikely to hold the line left to its own devices.
Congress, therefore, needs to raise its profile now. It should continue to push for an open hearing to get testimony from administration negotiators and force a public debate. It should make clear that it will not acquiesce to the administration running an end-around to provide sanctions relief. It should reiterate the minimum standards for an acceptable deal it has previously outlined, including the verified dismantling of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, a full accounting of its activities, and unfettered access for investigators. And finally, it should begin setting the conditions for increasing pressure on Tehran across multiple fronts.
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