What the U.S. is agreeing to in Vienna is a shorter and weaker agreement that provides even more sanctions relief in exchange for fewer restrictions.
STOPIRANNOW.ORG Via The National Review
By Richard Goldberg
President Joe Biden vowed this week to isolate Russia, yet his negotiators stayed at the table with their Russian counterparts in Vienna, putting the finishing touches on an Iran nuclear deal 2.0 that will benefit Russia and Iran and endanger the U.S. and its allies.
The new agreement is even worse than the 2015 deal made by the Obama administration. Biden’s version would lift U.S. terrorism sanctions on Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, and leave Tehran’s illicit nuclear infrastructure intact without first demanding a full accounting of Iran’s secret nuclear work.
Under the deal, Iran would get access to more than $100 billion, which it could spend on terrorism, missiles, and the pursuit of regional hegemony. Enforcement remains weak or non-existent, so there is no barrier to Iran’s crossing the nuclear threshold at a time of its choosing. Terrorism sanctions imposed on the Central Bank of Iran, the National Iranian Oil Company, and a host of other banks and companies will be suspended without any evidence that these institutions are no longer engaged in financing terrorism.
The State Department may even rescind the terrorist designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps despite its continuing sponsorship of terrorism and history of targeting Americans — a slap in the face to nearly 1,200 Gold Star family members who recently pled with the White House not to release any funds to Iran until the regime first paid $60 billion in judgments owed to American victims of Iran-sponsored terrorism.
But wait, there’s more: America may trust Russia to maintain custody of Iran’s enriched-uranium stockpile with a promise to return the stockpile to Iran if the U.S. ever reimposes sanctions. The full contents of the near-final agreement remain unknown, so it is not clear whether Biden will lift U.S. sanctions prohibiting Moscow from transferring conventional arms and missiles to Iran — part of an executive order issued by former president Donald Trump.
How did we get here? At the end of 2020, Iran was down to just $4 billion in accessible foreign-exchange reserves thanks to the historic success of the Trump administration’s maximum-pressure campaign. The regime was reeling from the loss of its terror mastermind, Qasem Soleimani, and its nuclear-weapons architect, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. Iran wasn’t enriching uranium to higher levels — not 20 percent, let alone 60 percent — nor had it curtailed U.N. inspectors’ access to key facilities. Meanwhile, the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency was on course to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council for noncompliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty over Tehran’s refusal to cooperate with an ongoing probe into concealed nuclear materials, sites, and activities.
The maximum-pressure campaign was working in draining Iran’s reserves and pushing the regime to the brink of economic collapse. But Team Biden had a different strategy in mind: Be nice. The administration stopped enforcing sanctions, eased Iran’s access to frozen funds, and halted pressure on Iran to declare its secret nuclear work. Iran responded by racing forward with its nuclear program and ordering its terror proxies to step up attacks against U.S. forces and allies in the Middle East. For months, Biden’s critics urged a change in strategy — a return to maximum pressure before Iran could erase all U.S. leverage and turn the tables on Washington.
Then came the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan. Vladimir Putin wasn’t the only dictator in the world to perceive American weakness. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei pressed forward with Iran’s nuclear advances, betting Biden would do nothing but offer more carrots. He bet correctly.
As Biden came into office, his administration’s stated policy objective was to negotiate a longer and stronger agreement than the 2015 nuclear deal that faced bipartisan opposition from Congress. What Biden is agreeing to in Vienna is a shorter and weaker agreement that provides even more sanctions relief in exchange for fewer restrictions.
The original deal left Iran’s nuclear-enrichment capabilities intact, provided no restrictions on the development of nuclear-capable missiles, and came with expiration dates — or “sunsets” — on key international restrictions. The first sunset, lifting a U.N. ban on transferring conventional arms to Iran, arrived in late 2020. The next one, lifting a U.N. ban on transferring missile parts to Iran, arrives next year. The deal then allows Iran to conduct the very same nuclear work that we see today in the years that follow.
Moscow loves the old deal, especially the sunsets. Russia stands to make a lot of money off arms sales if Biden rescinds Trump’s executive order. That’s on top of the money Putin will already make building nuclear-power plants in Iran.
The new deal is even better for Putin — the timing of its announcement likely by his design. He will tout it as Russia’s contribution to international peace and security — a contribution requested by Washington.
Now is the time for Congress to act. The White House knows this agreement would never win ratification by the U.S. Senate if submitted as a treaty. Biden may even try to avoid submitting it for congressional review before lifting sanctions, defying a 2015 statute that requires him to do so.
Congress should defend the integrity of U.S. terrorism sanctions by mandating new sanctions on any institution in Iran — including the Central Bank of Iran — that continues to finance the activities of the Revolutionary Guard, Hezbollah, and other terrorist organizations. Congress should condemn as wholly illegitimate the removal of terrorism sanctions without a cessation of illicit conduct. Biden is setting a dangerous precedent for U.S. counterterrorism policy.
New legislation should set a deadline for Iran to fully account for its undeclared nuclear work or face the full reimposition of U.S. sanctions. Removing sanctions for a supposed nuclear deal that knowingly allows Iran to hide its clandestine nuclear activities defies common sense.
Steps will also be needed to deny Russia the benefits of the deal. Sanctions targeting Russian economic, nuclear, and military relations with Iran should be reinstated or strengthened. The same might be considered for China, which has announced a 25-year economic-cooperation program with Tehran.
Finally, the question of military deterrence will take center stage. The coming deal makes it more likely that the United States or Israel will soon have to choose between military action or a nuclear-armed Iran. Congress should consider what tools Israel may need to defend itself in the wake of a strike against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.
Unfortunately, a chaotic and dangerous world is about to get a bit more chaotic and dangerous. At least until Congress or a new administration can change course.