From allowing Iran to keep enriching uranium to abandoning “anywhere, anytime” inspections of Tehran’s nuclear facilities, the Obama administration has crossed many of its own red lines in the nuclear deal that will lift tough economic sanctions on America’s longtime adversary.
In December 2013, Secretary of State John F. Kerry said one of the requirements of a good deal with Iran would be to “help Iran dismantle its nuclear program.” He said it was “the whole point” of the sanctions.
But the actual deal? It doesn’t require Iran to dismantle its nuclear program. Iran gets to keep some of its uranium-enriching centrifuges and other aspects of its infrastructure.
In November 2013, Mr. Kerry said Iran has “no right to enrich” uranium.
The actual deal? Iran gets to continue enriching uranium, although it must get rid of two-thirds of its centrifuges and can’t enrich the material to weapons grade.
President Obama said he wanted inspections “anywhere, anytime” of Iran’s nuclear facilities to ensure Tehran is adhering to terms of the deal.
But the actual agreement? Iran gets 24 days’ notice of inspections of suspicious sites. A secret side deal allows Tehran’s own inspectors to check a military site where work on nuclear weapons was thought to have been carried out.
“To be conservative, I’d say at least a dozen red lines have been crossed,” said Michael Rubin, a security specialist at the American Enterprise Institute. “John Kerry is about as credible as Baghdad Bob and probably no more interested in the predominance of American security.”
The president and his advisers defend the deal as the best possible and say it will prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons. White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Monday that the agreement “will be a significant constraint on Iran’s nuclear program.”
“This is reducing their uranium stockpile by 98 percent, unplugging thousands of centrifuges, essentially gutting the core of their plutonium heavy water reactor and agreeing with the [International Atomic Energy Agency’s] request for information and access that’s required to complete their report about the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program,” Mr. Earnest said.
In Vienna, Iranian officials warned the U.N. agency Tuesday not to bow to pressure from Congress to detail its investigation into Tehran’s past nuclear work, saying Iran will not accept any leaks of their discussions.
Iranian Ambassador Reza Najafi said accusations that Iran ever worked on nuclear weapons were baseless.
“The IAEA should at the same time exercise utmost vigilance to ensure full protection of all confidential information coming to its knowledge,” Mr. Najafi told reporters. “We won’t accept any kind of leakage of classified information by anyone.”
The resistance from Iran prompted Rep. Mike Pompeo, Kansas Republican and a prominent critic of the deal, to renew his call for the administration to release any secret side deals between the IAEA and Iran.
“From refusing to let the United States see the secret side agreements, to failing to explain if the IAEA will be allowed to inspect its Parchin military site, Iran is already acting as a bully — dodging questions and telling lies to hide its bad behavior,” Mr. Pompeo said. “Every member of Congress must at least demand that the administration provide us with this entire agreement before we have to vote on this critically important matter of national security.”
Words vs. deal
Critics in Congress and elsewhere point to the administration’s own words to outline how the deal falls short of what the U.S. hoped to achieve.
The Foreign Policy Initiative, a right-leaning think tank in Washington, has highlighted at least 20 areas of the agreement where the administration’s rhetoric doesn’t jibe with the text of the accord. For example, in 2013, Mr. Obama said he envisioned a deal that was so restrictive of Iran’s nuclear program “that they, as a practical matter, do not have breakout capacity” to build atomic weapons.
The agreement, however, contains many provisions that expire after a decade or 15 years, making it impossible to claim that it permanently blocks Iran’s path to nuclear weapons. The president told NPR in an interview this month, “Essentially we’re purchasing, for 13, 14, 15 years, assurances that the breakout is at least a year.”
The easing of sanctions is another issue. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress this summer that “we should under no circumstances relieve pressure on Iran relative to ballistic missile capabilities and arms trafficking.”
But under the nuclear agreement, sanctions on conventional arms are to be lifted in five years and missile sanctions in eight years.
James Phillips, a senior research fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs at The Heritage Foundation, also criticized “crazy” provisions in the agreement that will protect Iran from certain “snapback” sanctions on deals that Tehran signs between the lifting of sanctions and any violation of the nuclear accord.
Mr. Obama continues to lobby lawmakers ahead of next month’s vote in Congress on a resolution disapproving of the Iranian deal.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan became the latest in a string of Democrats on Monday to back the agreement, bringing to 28 the number of senators supporting it.
“The imminent threat of Iran having a nuclear weapon outweighs any flaws I see in the international agreement,” Ms. Stabenow said. “For this reason, I must support the agreement.”
Mr. Obama must have at least 34 backers in the Senate to sustain his veto of the resolution.
Two Democratic senators, Charles E. Schumer of New York and Robert Menendez of New Jersey, have announced that they will oppose the deal.
Mr. Obama further riled some opponents Monday night by saying that he and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, must “deal with the crazies” on various issues before they leave office. Rep. Diane Black, Tennessee Republican, was among those who took offense, thinking the president was referring to opponents of the Iran agreement.
“First, he likened opponents of his deal to Iranian hard-liners chanting ‘Death to America’ and now, in an even lazier line of attack, he’s simply resorted to calling us ‘crazies,’” she said Tuesday. “What’s ‘crazy’ in my book is cutting a deal with the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism that allows at least 24 days to slow-walk nuclear inspections, that gives our expressed permission to continue enrichment, and gives Iran more than $100 billion in sanctions relief that will inevitably be funneled to terrorist proxy groups.”
White House deputy press secretary Eric Schultz said Tuesday that Mr. Obama might have been flip with the remark, but he wasn’t referring to opponents of the Iran deal.
The White House circulated a letter Monday by Rep. Seth Moulton, a Massachusetts Democrat and Iraq War veteran who supports the accord. Mr. Moulton said there is no better deal because allies won’t push for more sanctions if the U.S. walks away from the agreement.
He also said taking military action against Iran “would once again imperil the lives of Americans to achieve much less than this deal achieves by diplomatic means.”
“Military action would only set Iran’s nuclear program back a few years at most, reaffirm their pursuit of a nuclear weapon, and drive the program underground,” Mr. Moulton said.
Some critics of the deal said Iranians realized that the president could concede on the nuclear agreement because he backed away from his “red line” three years ago on Syria’s use of chemical weapons.
Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican, said Mr. Obama flinched in his showdown with Syrian dictator Bashar Assad.
“Anyone with eyes,” he said, “could conclude that the president doesn’t stick by his red lines. They also knew that since he was term-limited, he had a hard and fast negotiating deadline, which they didn’t really have. I think they used his political deadline against him.”
Mr. Obama has said repeatedly that “no deal is better than a bad deal.” In the eyes of his critics, it’s just one more red line that he has crossed.
• Ben Wolfgang contributed to this report.