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Updated: Jan 28, 2022

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by Michael Rubin - American Enterprise Institute | January 23, 2022 06:00 AM

The Biden administration’s efforts to engage Iran are on life support despite a year of near-constant concessions.

Rather than blame Tehran or acknowledge that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has agency, White House press secretary Jen Psaki blames former President Donald Trump for the failure. "Iran’s increased capability and capacity, their aggressive actions that they have taken through proxy wars around the world, would be happening if the former president had not recklessly pulled out of the nuclear deal with no thought as to what might come next," she declared.

Psaki’s statement is dishonest.

The 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, President Barack Obama’s signature Iran nuclear deal, legalized Iran’s nuclear program and offered Tehran tremendous financial rewards in exchange for temporary constraints on Iran’s nuclear enrichment. Rather than help ordinary Iranians, sanctions relief and new investment poured disproportionately into Revolutionary Guards coffers and financed its malign activities in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Bahrain, and Yemen. [and around the globe - as well as the advancement of its nuclear and conventional arsenals and intercontinental ballistic missiles which threaten the entire free world].

Returning to the deal would be a big mistake. Consider five problems with the agreement, both then and now.

  • 1) The final deal contradicted Obama’s guarantees. Obama repeatedly assured the public that his nuclear diplomacy would address key concerns such as Iran’s underground nuclear bunker and its illicit enrichment. When he unveiled the deal, though, it legalized both.

  • 2) The deal weakened nonproliferation efforts. The White House and its surrogates repeated the talking point that the deal cut off Iran’s path to nuclear weapons. The reality, however, was that it reversed decades of counterproliferation precedent that required states to give up their nuclear infrastructure and submit to decades of intrusive inspections.

  • 3) An end run around Congress. Obama and his aides implied their deal was like a treaty, but not only did they never submit it for Senate ratification, they also maneuvered so that the deal never required majority support. Congress never trusted the White House, though, and so required access to all side deals. Obama reneged on this promise, believing he had a fait accompli. Good deals stand on their merits; they don’t need end runs.

  • 4) The hostage ransom. In 2016, I testified in Congress about Obama's hostage ransom. Two State Department officials denied payments were a ransom, but, in hindsight, they lied about not only the ransom, but also its amount.

  • 5) Ignoring Congress. As Biden has sought to revive the nuclear deal, he, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and Iran envoy Rob Malley have reportedly green-lighted tens of billions of dollars in sanctions relief. They may think the price is worth it, but it is not alone their call: The White House and State Department have ignored more than two dozen congressional inquiries into the proposed relief. Once again, ignoring oversight forfeits confidence; it does not build it.

Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA was inelegant, even if it was legal. It would have been better if Trump had pushed the types of intrusive inspections of dual-use military sites that Tehran rejected and pushed Iran into violations, if not its own unilateral withdrawal. There would have been no need to back away from the deal, however, if it did its job. The simple fact is it did not. Both Obama and Biden and the team of staffers they shared realize this, though, hence their dissimulation and obfuscation.

If Biden wants bipartisan support, he must start his negotiations at home and address the real concerns that Republicans have with his Iran strategy. America is at its most effective on the world stage when its strategies have bipartisan backing. Conversely, when the White House tries a political end run, what results is not a triumph, but a train wreck.

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