You guys made fun of Obama after the deal was struck and said he got rolled by the Iranians, but just look at this sweet handful of magic beans they gave him.
Seriously, though, I’m confused.
“The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is not a treaty or an executive agreement, and is not a signed document,” wrote Julia Frifield, the State Department assistant secretary for legislative affairs, in the November 19 letter.
Frifield wrote the letter in response to a letter Pompeo sent Secretary of State John Kerry, in which he observed that the deal the president had submitted to Congress was unsigned and wondered if the administration had given lawmakers the final agreement. Frifield’s response emphasizes that Congress did receive the final version of the deal. But by characterizing the JCPOA as a set of “political commitments” rather than a more formal agreement, it is sure to heighten congressional concerns that Iran might violate the deal’s terms.
“The success of the JCPOA will depend not on whether it is legally binding or signed, but rather on the extensive verification measures we have put in place, as well as Iran’s understanding that we have the capacity to re-impose — and ramp up — our sanctions if Iran does not meet its commitments,” Frifield wrote to Pompeo.
So we’re lifting $100 billion in sanctions in exchange for a legally binding promise of … nothing. The flip side of that, I guess, is that the deal’s not binding on us either; if the next president or even Obama himself wants to reimpose sanctions on a whim, that’s fair game. The problem with that logic, though, is that no one believes our European partners, who crave renewed access to Iran’s markets (and vice versa), will reinstate sanctions unless Iran cheats flagrantly and egregiously on the deal, to the point where it would humiliate the EU internationally to look the other way. One of Iran’s core goals in all this, re-opening its trade relationship with Europe, will be achieved whether or not the deal is binding. And once achieved, it’ll be nearly irreversible.
But back to my confusion. Iran might not have had a representative formally sign the deal in Geneva but it did manage a vote on the agreement in the Majlis, the nation’s parliament. Which, thanks to Democrats (and Bob Corker), is more than the U.S. can say of its own legislature. The outcome: 161 in favor, 59 against. The debate in the Majlis got so hot that some of the members reportedly got into physical fights; some hardline Iranian parliamentarians who opposed the deal were seen crying afterwards and denounced the vote as illegal. Granted, the Majlis doesn’t have true legal authority in Iran. That falls to the Supreme Leader, Khamenei, and the Guardian Council of clerics who are tasked with vetting new laws passed by the Majlis. But the Guardian Council also approved the new law endorsing the Iran deal, just a day after the Majlis enacted it. A week ago, the IAEA confirmed that Iran had already started removing some uranium centrifuges from its Natanz and Fordo facilities. The deal may be unsigned but Iran appears to have formally adopted it internally.
The answer to all of that will be that there’s a difference between a country voting to implement an agreement voluntarily and making a binding promise to another country that they’ll implement it by signing a statement to that effect. In theory, the latter gives the treaty partner some legal recourse — international sanctions, most likely — that the former doesn’t. Like I said above, though, international sanctions are already almost certainly off the table, in which case what is Iran’s formal promise via signature really worth? Especially when — wait for it — everyone expects them to cheat regardless. Complaining that they haven’t formally committed themselves is like asking a guy who’s robbed 50 banks to solemnly pledge that he won’t rob any more. Does it really matter if he pledges or not? You’re not going to believe him either way. A perennial cheater doesn’t need a loophole to rationalize his cheating.
Besides, Obama’s grand design in making this lame deal was never really to denuclearize Iran. The agreement explicitly allows them to start enriching again if they play nice for 15 years. The point of the deal was (a) to give O a pretext to take military action off the table, a scenario the left regards as far more dangerous than Iran with a bomb, and (b) to pave the way for a broader detente with Iran, in hopes that the regime might at least be deradicalized before that 15-year countdown is up. How’s that working out so far?
Four months after a historic accord with Tehran to limit its atomic ambitions, American officials and private security groups say they see a surge in sophisticated computer espionage by Iran, culminating in a series of cyberattacks against State Department officials over the past month.
The surge has led American officials to a stark conclusion: For Iran, cyberespionage — with the power it gives the Iranians to jab at the United States and its neighbors without provoking a military response — is becoming a tool to seek the kind of influence that some hard-liners in Iran may have hoped its nuclear program would eventually provide.
While American officials doubt cyber skills, or even the most advanced cyber weapons, will ever have that kind of power, Iran’s cyber focus these days is notable.
That’s one way to spin it — “we stopped their bomb so now they’re shifting to cyber!” Here’s another way: Iran agreed to the nuke deal simply because the carrots, most notably the economic windfall from sanctions lifting, were too good to pass up. But they have no intention of rapprochement with the U.S., let alone deradicalizing. Read this NYT piece from a few weeks ago about the surge in anti-American sentiment inside Iran lately, the most recent example of which was Khamenei blaming the U.S. for ISIS’s attack on Paris. Obama apologists will spin all of that too by claiming that it’s just the regime protecting its flank from hardliners who hate the nuclear deal by showing that they’re still true-blue America-haters. Maybe. Or maybe it’s the regime reverting to form now that they’ve gotten what they want from Obama and the EU. Why Iran gets the benefit of the doubt on anything, I can’t fathom, but I guess when job one is protecting Obama’s legacy, you can justify anything.