Washington Watch: Will Iran deal be DOA?

Netanyahu will oppose anything short of white flags flying over the nuclear ashes of Tehran, and even that is not guaranteed.

November 12, 2014 23:20
Binyamin Netanyahu

Netanyahu warns against nuclear Iran at 2012 UN General Assembly. (photo credit: REUTERS)

We don’t know what a nuclear agreement with the Iranians will look like or whether there will even be one by the November 24 deadline, but this much you can count on: whatever it contains, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Republican allies will oppose it.

And after last week’s election, they can expect to be joined by a lot of Democrats who are thinking less about loyalty to President Barack Obama than about the next election.

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That’s not to say there may not be good reason to oppose the agreement, but even before seeing it the GOP and the Israeli prime minister have served notice that they won’t like it.

Since any agreement with the Iranians would not be a formal treaty, the administration will not need congressional approval, but Congress and the public have a right to know the terms of any agreement – and the inevitable hearings would provide yet another forum for the president’s implacable partisan foes.

Republicans have already served notice they will block any deal they consider weak, and their definition of weak is very wide ranging.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) told a gathering of Israeli Americans last week in Washington that he intends to introduce legislation in January requiring the Senate to “examine” any agreement with Iran. Unless it is “good for the US, Israel and other US partners,” he said, “I will kill it.”

More than the substance of any nuclear agreement is behind this threat. Republicans can be counted on to oppose any agreement negotiated by the Obama administration because their top priority is denying this president any foreign policy achievements.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has been the driving force on Iran sanctions for more than 20 years. Given the group’s Republican leanings and close relationship to Netanyahu, look for it to lead the opposition to any agreement the Obama administration makes with Iran.

The organization has had virtually wall-to-wall bipartisan support on its anti-Iran sanctions campaign on the Hill.

How will it respond when the president presents an agreement to the American people that he says can keep Iran from having nuclear weapons and gives Tehran some sanctions relief? Will it reflexively join the opposition, whatever the merits of the agreement, and run the risk of appearing to put Israel’s interests ahead of this country’s, even to the extent of trying to goad us into a war that would be disastrous for America and Israel? Expect the administration to lobby the lobby very hard on this one, and so will Netanyahu and the Republicans. AIPAC has an opportunity to play a pivotal role in this debate.

Netanyahu will oppose anything short of white flags flying over the nuclear ashes of Tehran, and even that is not guaranteed.

That’s not to say that any agreement deserves automatic approval. Far from it. The truth is we don’t know what will be in it, and anyone who tells you they do is just shoveling a famous barnyard commodity.

Obama himself has repeatedly said he is skeptical whether an agreement can be reached.

The Iranians didn’t help their campaign to repair relations with Washington and win relief from the harsh economic sanctions when their venomous grand ayatollah tweeted “This barbaric, wolflike and infanticidal regime of Israel... has no cure but to be annihilated” and then posted a nine-point plan to do just that. Could that be what’s really behind his nuclear program? A weakened Obama facing a Republican- controlled Congress will be unable to block legislation imposing crippling new sanctions, this time without waiver or suspension authority. Last year the House passed a strong measure almost unanimously only to be blocked by Democratic leaders in the Senate.

They won’t be able to do that next year.

What no one knows, perhaps not even the Iranians themselves, is whether the grand ayatollah is ready to make an agreement that the US can accept. Many, especially in the US, Israel and the Gulf Arab states, suspect, and not without good reason, that the negotiations may be a cover for Iran to try to peel away sanctions while secretly pursuing nuclear weapons.

Iran has a long history of cheating. Most recently the International Atomic Energy Agency reported Iran has refused to provide required information on experiments with detonators and high explosive charges for nuclear weapons.

Republicans make it clear they don’t trust Obama and think he’s ready to buckle under to the Iranians and sell out Israel. You can read it in their speeches and op-ed articles. There’s no explanation why he would be so intent on giving Iran the bomb and rescuing its economy at the expense of Israel and all our friends in the region, to say nothing of our own national security. Maybe they’re just blinded by their hatred of this president.

Obama will be making a big mistake if he tries to bypass the Congress. That would only open the door to moves to force Iran to walk out and possibly leave our European and other partners to lift sanctions unilaterally.

Obama, like Netanyahu, has said no deal is better than a bad deal. However, they may have different definitions of good and bad in this case. “There’s still a big gap. We may not be able to get there,” Obama said in a CBS interview. He said his goal is “verifiable, lock-tight assurances that they can’t develop a nuclear weapon.”

Vice President Joe Biden told the annual conference of the Jewish Federations of North America in Washington this week, “We will not let Iran acquire a nuclear weapon – period.”

One thing you can count on: don’t believe a word you hear from the Iranians, Americans, Israelis or anyone else about what is in the nuclear agreement – if there even is one – until it is made public. Until then it is all bluff, bluster and spin; the only ones who know what’s going on aren’t talking.

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