Over the weekend, Democrats and administration officials maintained their excitable overreaction to a letter signed by 47 Republican senators in which they warned the Islamic Republic of Iran that a bad nuclear deal that will be unlikely to outlast the Obama presidency. Some Republicans, too, have begun to lament the letter’s facilitation of administration officials’ efforts to avoid contending with the specific objections many have to a prospective accord and the public’s apprehensions over this White House’s deal-making prowess.
Those who are suspicious of the utility of a nuclear pact with Iran are apparently in the majority. A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll revealed that more than seven in ten Americans believe a deal with the Islamic Republic will not prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Still others are concerned that the process of sweetening the pot for Iran will demand that the West surrender more leverage in multilateral negotiations than it should. Members of the administration protest that those who oppose a nuclear deal with Iran are engaging in speculation. The terms are not yet finalized, they say, and any details of the results of the P5+1 negotiations are unconfirmed. For their part, the administration is also not waiting for a deal before working to secure Iran’s rewards for cooperation.
Last week, Reuters revealed that administration officials have already approached the United Nations Security Council in a bid to reduce the sanctions on Iran and to make the imposition of new sanctions more difficult. The move is widely seen as an effort to get around Congress where a bipartisan group of legislators has flirted with rejecting the deal or creating tripwires that would be activated in the event of Iranian noncompliance.
That’s not the only carrot that the administration is apparently dangling in front of Iranian negotiators. On Monday, the unclassified version of the Worldwide Threat Assessment via the office of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper heaped praise on Iran as a responsible regional actor and deemphasized the state’s traditional support for terrorist organizations like Hezbollah.
In describing Iran’s regional role, the report noted the Islamic Republic’s “intentions to dampen sectarianism, build responsive partners, and deescalate tensions with Saudi Arabia,” but cautioned that “Iranian leaders—particularly within the security services—are pursuing policies with negative secondary consequences for regional stability and potentially for Iran.
“Iran’s actions to protect and empower Shia communities are fueling growing fears and sectarian responses,” it said.
The United States and other Western nations, along with a coalition of regional allies, both Sunni and Shiite, has been launching attacks against Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria in recent months. The Sunni group, also known by its acronyms IS, ISIS and ISIL, is an offshoot of al-Qaeda that has carved out a self-proclaimed caliphate across large swaths of Syria and Iraq, both of whose governments are allied with Iran’s.
The Shiite Lebanese group Hezbollah, which is funded and mentored by Tehran, has been fighting the Islamic State, independently of the American-led campaign, both in Syria and Iraq.
This report declines to conclude whether or not the Islamic Republic will press forward with its intention to construct a nuclear device, but it observed that there are no technical hurdles in place today that would prevent the state’s nuclearization in the near-term. “It lingered on Iran’s pursuit of intercontinental ballistic missile technology as a likely delivery system for a nuclear weapon, and delineated Iranian threats in the realms of counterintelligence and cyber warfare,” The Times of Israel’s report read.
The DNI’s decision to massage the terrorist threat posed by Iran and its proxies is an odd one, and it appears to be a reversal of years of American policy. “Iran has been on the State Department’s list of State Sponsors of Terrorism since 1984,” read a report via The Clarion Project, citing a State Department Counterterrorism Bureau overview. “Its 2013 Country Reports on Terrorism states that Iran is supporting Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, the Syrian regime (also labeled a State Sponsor of Terrorism), Houthi rebels in Yemen, Shiite militants in Bahrain and Shiite militias in Iraq.”
The State Department confirmed that Iran continues to work with Al-Qaeda elements, despite their expressed hostility towards one another. It stated: “Iran remained unwilling to bring to justice senior Al-Qaeda (AQ) members it continued to detain, and refused to publicly identify those senior members in its custody.
Iran allowed AQ facilitators Muhsin al-Fadhli and Adel Radi Saq al-Wahabi al-Harbi to operate a core facilitation pipeline through Iran, enabling AQ to move funds and fighters to South Asia and also to Syria.
Iran operates a global network, including in the U.S. and South America. In May 2013, a 500 page report by an Argentine state prosecutor said Iran has an “intelligence and terrorist network” in Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile, Colombia, Guyana, Trinidad, Tobago and Suriname and elsewhere.
The administration has all the motivation in the world to present Iran as a rehabilitated and responsible state despite a lack of evidence to support that conclusion. It would be a catastrophe if the president’s quest for a legacy achievement in his second term blinded the government he leads to the dangers posed by Iran.