When Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks, the world should listen.
He has a much keener sense of the direction of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program than the president of the United States, and is evidently much more forthright about it.
When the Iranians and the United States cut what was portrayed as a tentative deal on the Iranian nuclear program, they described it differently. The U.S. emphasized that sanctions would only be phased out gradually and that inspections would ensure complete transparency.
Ayatollah Khamenei tweeted that there wasn’t really a deal, and oh yeah, sanctions would be lifted immediately and inspections wouldn’t be allowed to impinge on Iran’s security — in other words, would not include military sites.
In a similar vein, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attacked a U.S. fact sheet on the alleged deal as inaccurate. “There is no need to spin using ‘fact sheets’ so early on,” Zarif lectured on Twitter. Zarif was right to put sneer quotes around “fact sheets,” but his political analysis was off.
With its position rapidly eroding in Congress, the Obama administration felt an urgency to tout the non-triumph of the non-deal with reassuring details that either hadn’t truly been agreed to, or that the Iranians would be able to back us off of. Once Obama announced and defended the deal as the only alternative to war, he lost whatever leverage he ever had.
With the Iranians loudly insisting that sanctions relief would be immediate, Obama no longer sounded so adamant on phased relief, calling for “creative negotiations” to get a deal allowing “the other side to make a presentation to their body politic that is more acceptable.”
The best bet now is that Iran will get a “signing bonus” of perhaps $50 billion upfront (when its entire gross domestic product was just $370 billion in 2013), and the phased element of the removal of the sanctions will be window dressing.
On inspections, it seems highly unlikely that the Iranians will give way on their military sites. Why would they? They have been able to wring concessions from Obama on almost everything else important — from maintaining thousands of centrifuges, to continuing to enrich, to maintaining its Fordow site buried in a mountain.
The president’s fallback of last resort is “snap-back” sanctions that supposedly will punish any Iranian violations, but they will depend on Chinese and Russian cooperation. The Russians just stuck a finger in our eye by agreeing to sell Iran a sophisticated air-defense system.
A blase Obama said he was surprised that the Russians hadn’t sold Iran the missiles before. If the Ukrainian crisis were met with a similar presidential sang-froid, Obama might have said: “Candidly, I’m shocked that Putin didn’t take Crimea sooner. We’re just lucky that Russian forces haven’t yet overrun Kiev.”
Sometimes you wonder if Obama is even trying. But the scandal is that he isn’t a naif; he is a sucker by design.
Just as he gave the Castro regime everything he could while demanding almost nothing in return, he is not too concerned with what he is getting from Iran (as long, that is, as he can abide by his Jesuitical pledge that Iran won’t get a nuclear weapon — on his watch).
As Michael Doran of the Hudson Institute writes, Iran has had three goals during its long negotiation with the West: preserving its nuclear infrastructure, rolling back sanctions and unraveling the international legal regime isolating it. Obama is on the verge of giving it all three because he values a new detente with Iran over everything else.
This is supposed to be transformative, but it’s not clear how giving the Iran regime its nuclear program and massive economic relief and international legitimacy on top of it will modify its hegemonic designs and behavior. There is every reason to believe that Iran will continue its aggression, now with a helpful boost from the United States.
The Great Satan is not what it used to be.
Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.