Can there be bipartisan consensus on Iran?

Jul 19
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By Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post
Sunday, 17 July 2016

Secretary of State John F. Kerry, left, and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in Oslo on June 15. (State Department/European Pressphoto Agency)

The one-year anniversary of creation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) has passed, leaving Republicans and Democrats perhaps more unified on the deal’s faults and the way forward. The problem, quite frankly, has been a weak and dishonest Obama administration that frustrated both parties in Congress and failed to produce the deal it promised. Once Obama is gone, there is room for bipartisan agreement.

Former ambassador Eric Edelman, Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs exec Jonathan Ruhe and JINSA chief executive Mike Makovsky write:

The administration claimed this agreement would prevent a nuclear Iran, but in reality it allows Iran to ramp up its nuclear infrastructure and then expires. As the name suggests, the JCPOA is touted as comprehensive, however, it only addresses one component of nuclear weapons capability – enrichment – with no restrictions on the other two: means of delivery and weaponization activities.

Indeed, the authors’ point was driven home Friday when Iran conducted its fourth illegal missile test, after repeated toothless warnings from JCPOA signatories that it should refrain from further tests.

The authors continue:

Administration officials emphasized the agreement would make Iran’s nuclear program transparent, yet we know dangerously less now than before the JCPOA. This undercuts another claim, that there are no side deals, since the reducing reporting by inspectors on Iran’s enrichment under the agreement had not been spelled out before it was announced.

In Congressional testimony administration officials repeatedly said the United States would maintain pressure on Tehran during the JCPOA. Instead, the administration repeatedly lowered the heat, thereby diminishing American credibility regionally and globally. It is so invested in the deal that it avoids any tension, even when Iran threatens the United States.

That too seems to be the case, as we know Iran continues to develop far far more powerful centrifuges and illegally tries to acquire, according to a German intelligence report, nuclear technology.

The authors’ task force report for JINSA recommend a variety of steps, which do not necessarily entail ripping up the deal. These include “a full range of serious steps to respond, including military options,” if Iran keeps testing missiles, as well as “integrating U.S., Israeli and Arab missile defense capabilities into a multi-layered system to defend against Iran and its proxies region-wide.” They urge strict enforcement of the deal:

All unilateral post-deal concessions should be reversed, as a new administration will not be obligated by any informal or secret pledges already made to Iran. Through the deal’s Procurement Working Group, the United States can leverage authorities granted by the U.N. Security Council, including use of force, to prevent Iran accessing nuclear materials abroad. The United States and its partners must also convince Iran to make the deal’s time-limited enrichment restrictions permanent.

A new president can certainly take other steps. She can halt the cringe-worthy trade and investment promotion on Iran’s behalf undertaken by Secretary of State John F. Kerry. She can develop a coherent policy to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Iran’s closest ally.

Before a new president arrives, there are a number of steps Congress can take. The House voted to block the $25 billion saleof Boeing aircraft to Iran and also passed a trio of sanctions bills penalizing Iran for missile tests, preventing Iran access to U.S. dollars and  stopping future U.S. purchases of heavy water (used in nuclear processes) for Iran. A group of Senate Democrats, seeking to head off even more stringent sanctions, on Friday proposed legislationto renew the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996, which is set to expire at the end of this year. Senate Republicans want additional steps to punish Iran for human rights violations, missile tests and support for terrorism.

Many of the measures that Republicans favor are not inconsistent with a tougher line that Hillary Clinton has presented. While defending the deal, Clinton has called for exacting enforcement and sanctions for missile tests. What she is willing to do and how far she is willing to go if elected are different matters. Nevertheless, there seems to be agreement on both sides of the aisle that the deal isn’t going to disappear but that a tougher line can be taken regarding both Iran’s nuclear and non-nuclear conduct.

As we previously reported, a remarkable bipartisan report, including some Democrats who might well wind up in a Clinton 45 administration, reflects substantial agreement on next steps:

Past disagreements notwithstanding, the wisest course is to adopt a hard-nosed enforcement strategy to ensure the maximum benefit possible from the agreement and to minimize any shortcomings. Such a strategy should combine rigorous enforcement of the nuclear accord with stronger efforts to counter Iran’s destabilizing activities throughout the region, from its support to terrorist groups like Hezbollah.

As a starting point, Iran’s continued effort to modernize its ballistic missile capabilities should not proceed without consequences. Existing law calls for sanctioning those responsible for modernization activities specifically prohibited by U.N. Security Council resolutions. The administration should demonstrate its resolve by continuing to impose such sanctions as necessary regardless of Iranian threats to unravel the nuclear accord. . . . [Also,] the United States must adopt as a matter of policy the goal of defeating Iran’s determined effort to dominate the Greater Middle East.

That sounds very much like the JINSA task force. A shift in policy will happen only with new leadership from the White House. To the extent Clinton is willing to make good on her campaign rhetoric, Republicans should enthusiastically support tightening the screws on Iran. They cannot make the perfect the enemy of the good when it comes to toughening up U.S. policy.

In sum, glaring weaknesses in the JCPOA, Iran’s continued defiance and the experience of a feckless Obama administration that was more interested in creating an “echo chamber” than good policy may pave the way forward for better, bipartisan policy. That’s the hope, at any rate.

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