Thirty-four years ago, dozens of Americans working in our embassy in Tehran got a personal look at Iranian diplomatic integrity and reasonableness in the new mullahcracy. It took the Carter administration 444 days of impotence to get the hostages released, even though as diplomats they should never have been detained in the first place. Nearly 33 years after their release, most of them have harsh words for the Obama-Kerry deal with Iran, and at least one of them feels a sense of deja vu:
But for many of the 66 Americans who were held hostage for 444 days at the start of the Iranian revolution, trusting the regime in Tehran feels like a mistake.
“It’s kind of like Jimmy Carter all over again,” said Clair Cortland Barnes, now retired and living in Leland, N.C., after a career at the CIA and elsewhere. He sees the negotiations now as no more effective than they were in 1979 and 1980, when he and others languished, facing mock executions and other torments. The hostage crisis began in November of 1979 when militants stormed the United States Embassy in Tehran and seized its occupants.
Retired Air Force Col. Thomas E. Schaefer, 83, called the deal “foolishness.”
“My personal view is, I never found an Iranian leader I can trust,” he said. “I don’t think today it’s any different from when I was there. None of them, I think, can be trusted. Why make an agreement with people you can’t trust?”
A handful of the former hostages support the deal, but not because they believe the Iranians are eager to gain a rapprochement with the West. One of them, John Limbert, thinks the Iranian mullahs might have sobered up after the Arab Spring revolts, and see the need to end the impoverishment of their people as a priority over gaining nuclear weapons. Another thinks that the Iranians are fragmented, and that the US needs to boost those who still operate from a more moderate position. Most of them, though, find the entire exercise offensive:
Sgt. Rodney “Rocky” Sickmann, 56, of St. Louis, then a Marine sergeant, remembers clearly being told by his captors that their goal was to use the hostages to humiliate the American government, and he suspects this interim deal is in that vein.
“It just hurts. We negotiated for 444 days and not one time did they agree to anything … and here they beg for us to negotiate and we do,” he said. “It’s hard to swallow. We negotiate with our enemies and stab our allies in the back. That doesn’t seem good.”
Congress isn’t too keen on the deal, either, and that has become a bipartisan theme in the days since John Kerry announced the agreement. However, both Republicans and Democrats find themselves stuck in the conundrum of either actively undermining the deal and getting the blame when it fails, or letting the six-month period unfold and preparing for Iran’s inevitable betrayal. As Olivier Knox reports for Yahoo News, they’re leaning toward the latter:
Congress didn’t exactly sound the trumpets and roll out the red carpet for President Barack Obama’s fragile interim deal with Iran — but it’s increasingly clear that lawmakers don’t want to blow it up with new sanctions, either.
Instead, wary members seem set to adopt the same approach Obama has taken to Iran’s nuclear commitments — in the words of Ronald Reagan, “trust but verify.”
“The administration has gotten what it wants: Space for negotiations. And it will continue to get what it wants: Space. But not without consequences or repercussions if Iran breaks faith,” a top Democratic aide close to the process told Yahoo News.
That doesn’t mean Congress will sit on their hands, either:
It’s virtually a foregone conclusion that Secretary of State John Kerry and other senior diplomats will be called to justify the arrangement and provide frequent updates on Iranian compliance.
And legislation is far from ruled out. Congress is looking at options such as new sanctions that don’t go into effect until the interim agreement’s six-month lifespan slips by without a comprehensive deal — or unless Iran fails to implement any key aspect of the deal.
That approach appears to have found favor with the powerful American Israel Political Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which pressed Congress to adopt new sanctions “so that Iran will face immediate consequences should it renege on its commitments or refuse to negotiate an acceptable final agreement.”
The Associated Press reports this morning on that effort, too:
Leading Democratic and Republican senators are crafting legislation to reinstate the full force of sanctions and impose new ones if Iran doesn’t make good on its pledge to roll back its nuclear program, brushing aside the Obama administration’s fears about upending its diplomatic momentum.
Sens. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., hope to have the bill ready for other lawmakers to consider when the Senate returns Dec. 9 from its two-week recess, according to legislative aides. Many in Congress are skeptical, if not outright hostile, to the deal reached by Iran and world powers over the weekend in Geneva.
The Kirk-Menendez measure would require the administration to certify every 30 days that Iran is adhering to the terms of the six-month interim agreement and that it hasn’t been involved in any act of terrorism against the United States.
Without that certification, sanctions worth more than $1 billion a month would be re-imposed and new sanctions would be added. The new measures would include bans on investing in Iran’s engineering, mining and construction industries and a global boycott of Iranian oil by 2015. Foreign companies and banks violating the sanctions would be barred from doing business in the United States.
In other words, Congress wants to prepare itself in case this turns out to be a Carteresque move, and they’re not going to wait 444 days for it to play out.