In lambasting Congress' sanctions act, Obama failed to acknowledge that it does not implement sanctions immediately or torpedo the negotiations.
In his annual State of the Union Address, President Obama promised to veto a proposed bi-partisan bill that would sanction Iran if a final nuclear deal is not reached. Contrary to his characterizations, the bill would actually increase the chances of such a deal by sharply raising the pressure on Iran.
President Obama decidedly left out a crucial fact about the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015 that he lambasted: It does not implement sanctions immediately. It does not torpedo the negotiations. President Obama himself said in last year’s State of the Union Address that he’d be the “first” to demand new sanctions if negotiations fail.
The bipartisan legislation would impose sanctions on Iran only if a deal is not reached by the July 1 deadline. And even then, President Obama can get 30-day waivers by demonstrating to Congress that Iran abides by the terms of the interim agreement.
A revised bill will reinstate previous sanctions on Iran if a deal is not made by July 6, five days after the July 1 deadline. If Iran still does not agree to a deal, it will face a new round of sanctions every month as follows:
August 3: Sanctions on the petroleum industry.
September 7: Measures against foreign countries that import Iranian oil.
October 5: Sanctions on more Iranian officials.
November 2: Sanctions on international companies doing business with Iran’s Central Bank and other Iranian financial institutions blacklisted by the U.S. Treasury Department.
December 7: Sanctions on Iran’s mining, engineering, automobile and constructions sectors.
This bill accomplishes three objectives: One, it maximizes pressure on Iran. Two, it enhances American credibility. And three, it can help intimidate Western businesses chomping at the bit to do business with the regime.
On the first point, it must be realized that the U.S. has a big opportunity to pressure Iran because of today’s low oil prices. This bill puts the pieces in place for the Iranian regime to feel immense and immediate pain if negotiations fail.
The second point deals with Iran believing that it can endlessly string America along without severe consequences.
From the start, the White House has clashed with Democrats supporting tougher sanctions, disagreements that the Iranians surely took note of. The talks have been extended twice without any penalty for Iran. The IAEA’s conclusions that Iran is still not coming clean about its nuclear weapons activity has not stopped the administration from praising Iran's compliance.
The regime continues to sponsor terrorism, including contributing to the murdering of American soldiers in Afghanistan. Iran’s proxies just took over the presidential palace in Yemen. The U.S. has not responded to Iranian cyber attacks. America’s partners have complained about our lack of spine and loyalty.
Even if President Obama vetoes the bill, it will send a signal to Iran that American patience is running thin and there will be severe consequences if a deal is not soon reached.
Finally, the negotiations must be seen as part of the Iranian regime’s strategy to stabilize and make a shield from future sanctions by enticing Western companies. If the Iranian and European economies become tied at the hip, then it becomes much more difficult for effective international sanctions to be implemented.
There are three other comments in the State of the Union that must be addressed.
“I will veto any new sanctions bill that threatens to undo this progress. The American people expect us to only go to war as a last resort, and I intend to stay true to that wisdom,” he said.
The choice is not between war and reaching a flawed nuclear deal with Iran. The Iranians are taking one step backwards in order to take one step forward. A flawed deal will increase the long-term threat from the Iranian regime, including from its nuclear program.
“Our diplomacy is at work with respect to Iran, where, for the first time in a decade, we’ve halted the progress of its nuclear program and reduced its stockpile of nuclear material,” he said.
What President Obama did not mention is that Iran can reverse these losses easily and it has not dismantled a single piece of its nuclear infrastructure.
The Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister said, “We can return again to 20% enrichment in less than one day, and we can convert the material again.”
The Iranian Foreign Minister has similarly boasted that his government “did not agree to dismantle anything.” President Rouhani also says Iran will not give up a single centrifuge.
Part of President Obama’s statements rests upon a narrow definition of Iran’s “nuclear program.”
Iran is searching for parts for its Arak plutonium reactor. It is building two more nuclear reactors and has increased its uranium stock. Iran is still developing centrifuges and ballistic missile technology. Israeli satellites have photographed a new Iranian long-range missile capable of carrying nuclear warheads “far beyond Europe.” The U.S. Defense Department believes Iran could test an intercontinental ballistic missile this year.
The regime has also probably outsourced its most risky work to North Korea. The German press has also revealed that intelligence reports point to a secret nuclear site in Syria linked to Iran and North Korea. Syria is also suspected of having a hidden uranium stockpile.
The State Department says a Syrian nuclear program would not be discussed as part of the negotiations.
“New sanctions passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails—alienating America from its allies; and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear program again,” Obama said.
The perceived weakness of the U.S. towards the Iranian regime is what’s alienating America from its regional partners, not the threat of sanctions. This impression increasing the chances that countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt will develop nuclear weapons of their own.
President Obama should actually be thankful for the proposed legislation. It maximizes the chances that his diplomacy will succeed. Even if he vetoes the bill, it will give the U.S. credibility by showing that Congress will do its utmost to ensure that Iran does not string America along.
The question is why President Obama is so stubbornly against such a reasonable bill.
One answer may be that he believes the Iranians will walk away from the table due to the bill, even if he vetoes it. This would reflect an undeserved trust in Iranian intentions. If the regime genuinely wants a deal, then it doesn’t need to worry about the bill. Abandoning the talks would be nothing more than a contrived pretext.
The only other possibility is that President Obama intends to sign an agreement that Congress would see as too dangerous to be acceptable.
Congress must move forward on this bill, even if a veto is guaranteed and the veto cannot be overridden. The Iranian regime must see how serious Congress is about sanctions if a worthy deal is not reached and understand that the pressure on President Obama will increase with each passing day.
< em>Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org’s national security analyst, a fellow with Clarion Project and an adjunct professor of homeland security. Mauro is frequently interviewed on top-tier television and radio. Read more, contact or arrange a speaking engagement.