First the Iranian foreign ministry learned how to tweet; now we are told their negotiators are using PowerPoint. Can peace in our time be far off?
That's the mindset of many eager in the media to help the administration paint a picture of progress at the nuclear arms talks just concluded in Geneva, Switzerland. In fact, in the words of an official of a pro-Israel organization, "Nothing — nothing has changed." Iran is still enriching, the centrifuges are spinning and Iran is still insisting it has a "right" to enrich and has no nuclear arms program. As the official put it, "This isn't the first time we've seen this rodeo." The regime has spent all of Obama's first term and some of George W. Bush's talking, but not deviating one iota from its nuclear weapons plans.
The mullahs have "offered" a freeze on current enrichment for a period of time and a reduction in its existing stockpile in exchange for lifting all sanctions. This is preposterous in as much as it leaves Iran with a short "breakout" capacity of a few months or less and relief from sanctions. Critics of U.S. policy were emphatic about the need for Congress to act. Cliff May of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies told me, "Congress and the administration should move ahead immediately to ratchet up the sanctions pressure. Doing so may push Iran dangerously close to the economic edge. And that, in turn, might make clear to Iran's rulers that it will require serious concessions — not smiles and empty rhetoric about 'trust-building' — to save their regime." He adds, "Failing that, only the use of military force will stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability — with all consequences that implies."
Indeed, State Department negotiator Wendy Sherman testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee recently that if the administration didn't get results, it would urge Congress to move ahead. Since there are no actions that would constitute proof of Iran's willingness to give up its stockpile and dismantle its program, shouldn't Sherman be heading for the Hill to demand lawmakers squeeze the mullahs further, blocking Iran's access to banking and to U.S. dollars? Don't hold your breath.
A former official who believes the administration's approach is misguided e-mailed me: "It would be useful if House and Senate did something to stiffen admin's spine. I am afraid [Sherman] will negotiate from the Iranian offer, and they will get far more than half a loaf. What the Iranians appear to have offered allows them to keep their whole program and all their enriched uranium."
Judging from bipartisan letters and comments before the Geneva meeting, there is a good chance Congress will act. A senior Senate aide involved in previous sanctions legislation told me, "The supreme leader saw nothing but Western weakness in Geneva, and so he's probably feeling pretty good right now about his chances of getting a nuclear weapons capability. That feeling will fade fast because the strength and will of the U.S. Senate is about to send his regime into economic ruin. Most senators are ready to take sanctions to a 10 — now."
The administration likes to use buzz words — "workmanlike," "productive," etc. — to describe these talks. But the only workmen are in the nuclear weapons facility, and the production going on is more and more enriched uranium. The former U.S. official suggests that for starters a full and total acknowledgment of Iran's previous nuclear weapons program would demonstrate some change of heart. That has yet to happen. The administration seems eager to be conned; Congress will need to be the voice of realism. Otherwise, it seems inevitable that Israel will act militarily sooner rather than later.