NYT reveals: Kerry tried to make Iran deal contingent on Congress's approval -- but caved when other powers objected

To follow-up on Bruce’s item earlier, it’s a comfort to know the White House put up some token resistance before finally selling out what little leverage the American people’s representatives still had over this deal.

This sounds like an international version of “failure theater.” Obama and Kerry planned all along to betray Congress by letting the UNSC vote on the Iran agreement first, but they had to at least nod at national sovereignty by arguing against it. They failed, but darn it, they sure tried.

During the closed-door talks in Vienna on limiting Iran’s nuclear program, Secretary of State John Kerry argued that the United Nations Security Council should not vote on lifting sanctions on Iran until Congress had a chance to review the deal.

But he ran into a wall of opposition from Iran, Russia and even the United States’ closest European allies, who argued successfully that Security Council action should come first, according to Western officials…

At least two senior Democrats have joined the Republican leadership in complaining that the Security Council action, expected Monday morning, would pre-empt the congressional debate. Their concern is that it would signal the international community’s intention to dismantle the sanctions — if Iran meets the nuclear terms of the accord — before American lawmakers have had time to vote on it.

The Security Council approved the Iran agreement unanimously this morning. Had they waited two months and Congress ended up rejecting the deal, America’s European partners would have had to make a hard decision about whether to stick with the U.S. or lift sanctions anyway. Now that the UN’s thumbs up is already on the books, Germany et al. can claim that they’re simply abiding by the Security Council’s verdict in breaking with America if Congress gives a thumbs down. And that’s what’s important: Remember, today’s UN vote is key not because it’s binding on the U.S. (it isn’t, yet) but because it legitimizes the lifting of sanctions on Iran in the eyes of Europeans. If Congress blocks the deal and U.S. sanctions — and only U.S. sanctions — remain in effect, Iran can live with that. They’ll still get a huge economic boost from renewed trade with Europe, Russia, and China, and they’ll argue as a consequence that America’s failure to ratify the deal means Iran shouldn’t be bound by some or all of the denuclearization requirements in the agreement — an interpretation the White House itself is encouraging, disastrously, in order to pressure Congress.

If Obama had been serious about securing a role for Congress in all of this, he could have told Kerry that congressional approval must be an absolute precondition to a Security Council vote per the terms of the agreement. But that would have risked blowing up negotiations — the Iranians wouldn’t have dared jeopardized a sweetheart deal like this one by waiting for the GOP’s verdict, and the Europeans wouldn’t have dared risk having months of work come to naught knowing that Obama famously has trouble convincing Congress to follow his schemes, notwithstanding the fact that the congressional deck is stacked this time in his favor. So Kerry pushed a little and everyone else pushed a lot, and he ended up doing what America did over and over and over during this process. He caved.

Now that Congress’s last little dewclaw has been removed and the Europeans have already locked down sanctions relief at the UN, the sole remaining hope of critics to stop the deal is that Iran’s fanatics will be stupid enough to look their gift horse in the mouth. Aaron David Miller calls the agreement a “win-win win win win” for Iran, an arrangement so fantastically generous — $100 billion in sanctions relief and enrichment rights in just 10 years — that the mullahs would be idiots to cheat on it. Be good boys for the next decade by complying and they’ll make out like bandits economically while gaining the west’s endorsement to become a full nuclear power at the end. Compliance is a heavy lift for a culture built on “death to America,” though, so the deal may yet die by Iranian hands, either because Iran’s parliament can’t accept the very short-term embargo on ballistic-missile tech or because Iran’s Revolutionary Guard refuses to let inspectors into military bases. Hard to believe cooler heads won’t prevail there and they’ll end up ratifying the agreement, but Iran’s rejection is the only way left to get Europe to stick to its sanctions. Here’s hoping they’re capable of a strategic error this enormous.