EDITORIAL: Stiffening Obama’s backbone

Threat of new sanctions needed against Iran in the wake of a deal

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President Obama jolted Americans awake in November when he agreed to a suspicious deal with Iran to preserve its nuclear program. Now it’s the president who’s surprised — Congress wants him to actually hold the Islamic republic to its word. The idea of “peace through strength” has been banished from Washington’s playbook, so it’s encouraging to see Congress, including several prominent members of the president’s own party, attempting to hold the president accountable as he sues for peace at an unknown price.

When nuclear negotiators in Geneva announced “progress” on Friday, the White House tried to hush the skeptics on Capitol Hill, who are making noises about writing legislation to halt Iran’s oil exports if the mullahs try to wriggle through loopholes. This naturally upsets the White House, where they profess to hear a congressional drumbeat for war. If skeptics of Iran “want the United States to take military action, they should be upfront with the American people and say so,” said a spokesman for the National Security Council.

The November agreement, reached by United States, Britain, France, Russia, China, Germany and Iran, gives the Iranian regime $7 billion in economic-sanctions relief in exchange for a promise not to enrich uranium above the 5 percent level needed for electricity generation and to begin diluting its existing 20 percent enriched stockpile. Mr. Obama says that if the Iranians actually live up to their word — an enormous if — Iran would light up cities rather than burn them down. The Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday that Mr. Obama made a secret “side deal” to sweeten the agreement with the mullahs.

Negotiating is a hard-nosed business. Any used-car salesman could tell you that once he loses his nerve to say no, he fails. The art of the deal is a skill best learned in the streets. Diplomats who learn the skill in a classroom are usually no match for negotiators who learn bargaining in the bazaars of the Middle East. If Mr. Obama is willing to give away the store, the mullahs are willing to take it.

Fifty-nine members of Congress are risking White House wrath by backing a new sanctions bill designed to prevent Western negotiators from going wobbly when they feel faint. The sanctions have the backing of several Democratic heavyweights, such as Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York and Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, who are usually found in the president’s corner. In Tehran, the Iranian parliament enacted legislation to accelerate the Iranian nuclear program once the agreement is duly approved.

There’s no doubt there’s more to U.S. diplomacy with Iran than meets the skeptical eye. There always is. Camp Ashraf, a settlement of Iranian dissidents located inside Iraq’s border with Iran, was attacked on Sept. 1 by barely disguised gunmen who killed 50 and wounded hundreds of Iranian dissidents. Seven dissidents — including six women — were kidnapped. Growing rapprochement between Iraq and Iran raises suspicion that Iraq looked the other way and allowed Iran to savage the camp to teach dissidents a bloody lesson.

Washington knows more about this atrocity than it’s saying. Secretary of State John F. Kerry merely told the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in December that information about the missing dissidents is classified.

Given Mr. Obama’s passion for an Iran nuclear deal, Congress must not shrink from deploying the threat of additional sanctions to hold the White House no less than the mullahs accountable for producing a sensible, and enforceable, accord. Congress should press as well for an accounting of the missing dissidents. Washington silence about an atrocity, however useful it may be to the diplomats, must not be part of the deal.

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