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We’re All Hardliners Now

New legislation shows Congress and American public are united in their distrust of Obama's Iran deal.

4:14 PM, Dec 19, 2013 • By LEE SMITH
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A recent AP/GfK poll shows that a majority of Americans, 55 percent, disapprove of how Barack Obama is handling the Iran issue. There’s good reason for skepticism about Iranian intentions—after all, Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif threatens that if the interim deal agreed to on November 24 in Geneva falls apart then Iran can resume enriching uranium at 20 percent within 24 hours.

iran, nuclear

The concerns of the American public have been heard and registered on Capitol Hill. This afternoon, Mark Kirk and Robert Menendez were joined by twenty-four of their senate colleagues, Democrats and Republicans, in introducing The Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2013. The bipartisan bill is evidence of a pervasive wariness regarding the administration’s interim agreement with Iran—indeed, the skepticism runs so deep that it has driven together New York Democrat Charles Schumer and Texas Republican Ted Cruz as co-sponsors on the same piece of legislation. "The American people rightfully distrust Iran's true intentions and they deserve an insurance policy to defend against Iranian deception during negotiations,” Kirk said in a prepared statement.

The bill would impose additional sanctions if Iran violates the Joint Plan of Action laid out at Geneva, or in the event that no final agreement is reached after the six-month negotiating window stipulated by the JPA. The issue isn’t just Iran, but the administration’s negotiating tactics. Yes, the Iranians have kept enriching uraniumpledged to continue construction of a plutonium facility at Arak, and announced a ballistic missile test in the three weeks since the deal was struck in Geneva—but the equally important issue is that the White House doesn’t seem sufficiently bothered about it.

"The dynamics are what I've always said they would be,” Menendez told the National Journal. The point, he said, is “to give the president the space and time so that he can test the Iranians' seriousness of purpose in terms of whether they are willing to strike an agreement, but to be ready should they ultimately fail.”

Menendez’s characterization is, to say the least, diplomatic. Perhaps the most significant part of the legislation is not the threat of more sanctions after the six-month period, but that it lays down the minimum standards for any final agreement. This includes compelling Iran to comply with all the U.N. Security Council resolutions regarding its nuclear program, and dismantling the illicit nuclear infrastructure, and weapons components and technology, thereby eliminating the Iranians’ breakout capability. In other words, the bill outlines many of the terms that the administration has abandoned in the interim agreement out of fear that the Iranians won’t accept them. Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif says “the structure of our nuclear program has been maintained,” but the bill establishes that this is unacceptable.  The essential message then is that Congress believes not concluding a deal with Iran is better than a deal that would allow the Iranians to continue to pursue a nuclear weapons program.

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