Getting real on Iran nuke deal

In this picture released by an official website of the office of the Iranian Supreme Leader on Tuesday, June 23, 2015, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei addresses Iranian top officials in a mosque at his residence in Tehran, Iran. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

It is reassuring that the Senate recently presented President Barack Obama with a veto-proof demand for Congress to be given time to review any deal he may strike with Iran lifting economic sanctions in exchange for limits on its nuclear program.

That backstop means the president must get an agreement that will survive congressional scrutiny.

Recent comments by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei indicate that he is backing away from previous promises about verification. And a new State Department report on Iran’s continued support of terrorism also raises troubling questions about that nation’s future role in the Middle East if an agreement is reached.

That is apparently not the way President Obama has hoped his readiness to negotiate with Iran and make nuclear concessions would be received.

During an interview with National Public Radio in April, President Obama discussed what might happen to an estimated $150 billion in frozen Iranian funds if sanctions were lifted. That sum is equal to about one-fourth of Iran’s GDP as estimated by the CIA’s World Factbook. It is as if the United States suddenly received a one-time $4 trillion shot in the arm.

Asked if the funds might be used to advance Iran’s Mideast objectives and military power, the president said he thought there would be a strong chance that the funds would be mainly used to improve life for all Iranians. Referring to Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, he said, “I think that, if in fact the Rouhani administration — the forces that are more moderating ... if they are shown to have delivered for their people, presumably it strengthens their hand vis-a-vis some of the hardliners inside of Iran.”

Last week, however, the State Department issued a report showing that neither the election of supposedly moderate President Rouhani nor ongoing nuclear negotiations with the U.S. and other representatives of the U.N. Security Council has caused Iran to back down from its aggressive campaign to extend its power in the Middle East. Nor has it diminished its threat to Israel. That cannot be much comfort to a White House hoping that Iran will become a partner in stabilizing the region if a nuclear deal is reached.

Meanwhile, Ayatollah Khamenei this week issued a demand for an immediate lifting of sanctions before any Iranian moves to limit its nuclear activity, and barred any long-lasting freeze on Iranian development of more efficient ways to enrich uranium. He also reiterated a refusal to allow international inspection of military facilities.

The Ayatollah’s demands run directly counter to an eight-point framework for a successful negotiation laid out earlier this year by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a leading advocate of tying any agreement to rigorous verification.

Fortunately for the national interest, President Obama will have to effectively defend any agreement he eventually reaches with Iran — and the current July 1 deadline now looks unlikely — to an appropriately cautious Senate.