Stiff­en­ing Obama’s back­bone

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

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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