It now seems inevitable that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action will win enough support in Congress to become U.S. law. While the Iran deal’s proponents and detractors can debate the merits of the deal, the sharp partisan lines on assessment of the deal affirm what a partisan football U.S. national security has become. That is unfortunate, and a relatively recent development (while controversial, Congressional votes to engage militarily in Afghanistan and Iraq were bipartisan), all the more so because President Obama might have had bipartisan support had he consulted more broadly to strengthen the accord during the period of negotiation. Instead, he and Secretary of State John Kerry engaged in a Catch-22: There could be no fair criticism of the accord until all the details were known, and then once negotiators reached an agreement, it was too late to criticize.
In reality, however, there could have been a much stronger agreement. Obama and Kerry forfeited leverage, as Iran’s economy began to plunge into the abyss. It was the diplomatic equivalent of entering into a poker game with a royal flush and losing to a pair of twos. There are many reasons to be skeptical of the agreement and critical of its final parameters:
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is weaker than previous non-proliferation agreements with South Africa and Libya.
The inspection and verification mechanisms are also weaker than previous agreements and fall short of the Agreed Framework ratified by 124 other countries.
The JCPOA frontloads Iranian rewards, allowing it to cheat or walk away from the deal without consequence.
Acquiescing to Iran conducting its own sampling at Parchin, where Iran is alleged to have conducted nuclear weapons work, sets a dangerous precedent for future disputes.
In short, whenever U.S. and Iranian negotiators hit a brick wall, the United States acquiesced. According to this compilation by the Foreign Policy Initiative’s Tzvi Kahn, Obama and Kerry crossed more than a dozen of their own red lines.
But whenever the Obama and Kerry compromised, Iran sensed not goodwill, but rather a weakness to exploit. Hence, the latest from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani should not surprise. Speaking on Iranian television on Saturday, August 29, Rouhani declared:
“We have formally announced that we are not committed to these provisions mentioned in UN resolution . In the JCPOA itself we have explained that a violation of the UN resolution does not mean violation of the JCPOA.”
Hence, Obama and Kerry sought to bypass Congressional debate and violate the spirit of the Corker-Cardin compromise by going directly to the United Nations before Congress could debate the JCPOA. The Security Council unanimously adopted the new resolution. According to the UN’s press release:
The Security Council today coalesced around a sweeping resolution that endorsed the 14 July agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme, setting out a rigorous monitoring mechanism and timetable for implementation, while paving the way for the lifting of United Nations sanctions against that country… The Council, through the 104-page text, including annexes that detailed the sanctions-related provisions and listings, requested the International Atomic Energy Agency to undertake verification and monitoring of Iran’s compliance. It reaffirmed that Iran should cooperate fully with the Agency to resolve all outstanding issues. Upon receipt of a positive report from the Agency, the Council would terminate sanctions set out in resolutions adopted between 2006 and 2015.
Now Rouhani — the supposed moderate in whom Obama has placed his trust—has says he looks at the commitments laid out in the Security Council resolution in an à la carte manner. It’s not just a matter of Iran deciding unilaterally that it will not abide by international commitments with regard to missiles. It is not too late for Congressmen affirming the deal to gaze into the crystal ball of what weak inspection and verification mechanisms as well as a lackluster Iranian commitment to abide mean. Tehran is gambling on American partisanship and Congressional venality. Alas, for Iran, it’s a winning bet.