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Obama Threatens to Veto the Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act

Like many Americans and Israelis I watched expectantly President Obama’s State of the Union Address (SOTUS)  before a joint session of Congress crammed into the House Chamber. I was looking for a reaction from the Congressional audience on the issue of the P5+1 agreement implemented on January 20th. Iran’s President Rouhani had basically told  the P5+1  in a CNN  interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland that the Islamic regime was not going to dismantle their nuclear program. Instead they were going to plough ahead with research and development on advanced centrifuges and would not swap the Arak heavy water plant that would produce plutonium for a bomb.

In  light of these jarring comments made in Davos, Switzerland  by President Rouhani  at the World Economic  Forum, you would have prudently thought that the President would have changed his mind about  vetoing  the Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act (NWFIA), S. 1881. Obama made it clear that he was proceeding with the P5+1 deal as a diplomatic way of  avoiding  military action to disable the Islamic Regime’s  nuclear weapons capability.  A capability that according to Israeli PM Netanyahu  speaking at the Annual Conference of the Institute for National Security studies at Tel Aviv University  (INSS) was  “six weeks away from achievement when the P5+1 deal was signed” on November 24, 2013 in Geneva.

President Obama fired a bow shot directed at NWFIA sponsors Sens. Kirk and Menendez, and 57 other co-sponsors of S. 1881, as well as the Resolution introduced in by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor  (R-VA)  and Minority Leader Steny  Hoyer (D-Md.) supporting its passage.

Obama said:

Let me be clear if this Congress sends me a new sanctions bill now that threatens to derail these talks, I will veto it.

For the sake of our national security, we must give diplomacy a chance to succeed.

If Iran’s leaders do not seize this opportunity, then I will be the first to call for more sanctions, and stand ready to exercise all options to make sure Iran does not build a nuclear weapon.  But if Iran’s leaders do seize the chance, then Iran could take an important step to rejoin the community of nations, and we will have resolved one of the leading security challenges of our time without the risks of war.

It is American diplomacy, backed by pressure, that has halted the progress of Iran’s nuclear program – and rolled parts of that program back – for the very first time in a decade. As we gather here tonight, Iran has begun to eliminate its stockpile of higher levels of enriched uranium. It is not installing advanced centrifuges. Unprecedented inspections help the world verify, every day, that Iran is not building a bomb.

If John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan could negotiate with the Soviet Union then surely a strong and confident America can negotiate with less powerful adversaries today.

Watch this C-SPAN video clip of the nuclear Iran segment of his SOTUS:

The immediate reaction was clearly stony silence from the Republican members of both chambers in the audience.

According to a  Jerusalem Postarticle on the President’s veto threat, NWFIA co-sponsor Sen. Kirk said:

“The American people – Democrats and Republicans alike – overwhelmingly want Iran held accountable during any negotiations. While the president promises to veto any new Iran sanctions legislation, the Iranians have already vetoed any dismantlement of their nuclear infrastructure,” Kirk added, calling his bill an “insurance policy” for Congress.

The Hill  Global Affairs blog reported the dissembling  the morning after  the President’s SOTUS remarks on a nuclear Iran by some Democratic co-sponsors of NWFIA in the wake of the President’s public veto threat.  Note these Senators’ comments:

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said on MSNBC Tuesday night that he didn’t endorse the bill so that it could be voted on during negotiations with Iran. “Give peace a chance,” he said.

“I did not sign it with the intention that it would ever be voted upon or used upon while we were negotiating,” Manchin said. “I signed it because I wanted to make sure the president had a hammer, if he needed it and showed them how determined we were to do it and use it, if we had to.”

[…]

“Now is not the time for a vote on the Iran sanctions bill,” Coons said Wednesday at a Politico event, according to The Huffington Post.

The senator clarified that he still supports the bill but warned advancing it now could damage ongoing negotiations toward a final agreement with Iran.

[…]

“I’m not frustrated,” Menendez told The Huffington Post on Tuesday after Obama’s address. “The president has every right to do what he wants.”

The Hill Global Affairs blog noted the Senate reaction  to NWFIA :

Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the second-highest ranking Democrat, Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the fourth-highest ranking Democrat, and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have said they are against the bill.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has also suggested he’s leaning toward not allowing a vote on it.

On Wednesday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said the Senate should move the sanctions bill forward to the floor, predicting it would have a veto-proof majority.

Meanwhile, Reuters reported on Monday that lawmakers in both the House and Senate are considering a nonbinding resolution that expresses concern about Iran’s nuclear program.

Backing what Sen. Kirk said in his response to the President was further evidence from former  UN nuclear weapons inspector David Albright at the Washington, DC Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS).  Both he and the sanctions analysis team from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies held a well attended briefing for Capitol Hill Staffers on Monday, January 27th.  Albright was quoted in the Los Angeles Times citing an ISIS  report on the technical aspects of the accord implemented on January 20th that allows Iran to continue research over the next six months on several types of advanced centrifuges already at Natanz:

[The accord]  is not expected to seriously affect Iran’s centrifuge research and development program. Albright said he hopes to persuade the six powers to push for much stricter limits on centrifuge research and development when they negotiate the final agreement. The issue has to be addressed much more aggressively.

Cliff May of FDD, co-sponsor of the Capitol Hill event with Albright  of  ISIS,  observed in an NRO Corner article:

If Iran’s rulers faithfully comply with every commitment they have so far made, at the end of this six-month period, they will be about three months — instead of two months — away from breakout capacity.

Yesterday, at the annual conference of the  Institute for National Security studies (INSS)  at Tel Aviv University, there was a dialog between former CIA Director Gen. David Petreaus and Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin,  former  IDF military intelligence chief.  The contrast between their positions on the Iran nuclear threat was most telling:

General (ret.) David Petraeus: The United States is war weary and suffers from a “Vietnam syndrome.” However, it still has major strategic capabilities, and President Obama will not hesitate to use force against Iran, if necessary.

Major General (ret.) Amos Yadlin: What keeps me awake at night is the Iranian issue. The Iranian nuclear program aspires to attain a nuclear capability. The only viable leverage – sanctions and a credible military threat – are weakening, and this is most worrisome. Also troubling: the status quo on the Palestinian issue is not favorable, and the relations with the United States are not on the same level as before – these must be restored.

If you are a gambler, which of the two former military leaders, would you bet on to make a decision in the sovereign national interests of Israel regarding a nuclear Iran?  I know who I would.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on The New English Review.

Iran: P5+1 Reach Deal on Six Month Freeze

In separate announcements, Iran and the P5+1 reached agreement on the implementation of the Joint Plan of Action (JPA) to begin on January 20, 2014.  The original announcement of the interim agreement between the P5+1 and the Islamic regime in Tehran had been made on November 24, 2013. Friday reports came that the JPA agreement was imminent.

APIRNA, and Deutsche Welle had reports on these developments with statements by Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, EU Foreign Relations Commissioner Catherine Ashton, President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry.

Iran’s Araqchi announced, “The Joint Plan of Action reached between Iran and P5+1 in Geneva on November 24 will be implemented as of January 20.”However, he noted that uranium enrichment will continue at the 20% level until January 19th and that Iran fully expects the P5+1 to comply with agreed terms on the 20th.   Ashton, said, “The foundations for a coherent, robust and smooth implementation…have been laid.  She further noted,” We will ask the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to undertake the necessary nuclear-related monitoring and verification activities.”  Secretary of State Kerry commented that the agreement “represents the best chance we have to resolve this critical national security issue peacefully, and durably.” The White House verified the announcement saying, “Beginning January 20th, Iran will for the first time start eliminating its stockpile of higher levels of enriched uranium and dismantling some of the infrastructure that makes such enrichment possible.”  President Obama warned that the P5+1 would “move to increase [their] sanctions” if Iran didn’t comply with the terms.  However, he said the deal “will advance our goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. I have no illusions about how hard it will be to achieve this objective, but for the sake of our national security and the peace and security of the world, now is the time to give diplomacy a chance to succeed.”

During the run up to today’s announcement differences between the Administration and Congress arose over pending new Iran sanctions legislation, the Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act (NWFIA) that  the White House threatened to veto.  At one point during negotiations, the Iranian delegation headed by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif threatened to leave the Geneva meetings over the new US Sanctions initiative. In late December 2013, 230 members of Iran’s Parliament, the Majlis, signed legislation threatening to authorize uranium enrichment to 60% levels to counter the proposed NWFIA.

Among the terms agreed to was authority for the IAEA to conduct daily inspections of known Iranian nuclear facilities and supervise the neutralization of existing stock of enriched uranium at the 20% level, while Iran was granted permission to enrich to a 5% cap. However, a report from IRNA indicated that the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran had not received requests from the IAEA to open up a dedicated Tehran office, noting only that the UN agency had made frequent trips from its Vienna headquarters to conduct periodic inspections. That raises questions about the ability to enforce the provisions of the JPA.

The AP reported Iran’s Araqchi saying on national television that the Islamic Regime expects to receive release of $4 billion in frozen oil revenues versus upwards of $7 billion in relief the US had originally estimated with this interim pact.  Separately, Washington, DC-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies had estimated upwards of $20 Billion from the easing of sanctions. We have noted in Iconoclast posts recent visits by British parliamentary and French trade delegations. Further Turkey has confirmed an upcoming visit by embattled Turkish premier Erdogan to Tehran in late January or early February.  Erdogan is seeking to expand bilateral trade with Iran. According to experts cited in a Christian Science Monitor report Iran’s economy may have shrunk by an estimated 3% in 2012 and 2% in 2013.

Today’s announcement comes just prior to President Obama’s annual State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on January 28th. Further, it comes as momentum is building in the US Senate on a possible veto-proof bipartisan majority for passage of NWFIA.  It also comes prior to the scheduled January 22nd Geneva II talks on ending the 34 month long civil war in Syria. Secretary Kerry raised the prospect of inviting Iran to attend those sessions a week ago saying that the Islamic regime “might have a role to play on the sidelines.”

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on The New English Review.

Iran Accelerates Uranium Enrichment to 60%! Now what?

In response to the introduction of the bipartisan Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act of 2013  last Thursday in the US Senate co-sponsored by 26 Senators, see our Iconoclast post here, the Iranian government struck back. Press TV filed a story Wednesday that 100 MPs in the Majlis, the Iranian Parliament, signed legislation to accelerate enrichment and completion of construction of the Arak heavy water reactor for production of fissile plutonium, should the Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act be passed “Iran MPs draft bill on 60% uranium enrichment”.  Press TV reported:

Iranian lawmakers have drafted a bill that would oblige the government to produce 60-percent enriched uranium in line with the requirements of the nation’s ‘civilian’ nuclear program.

Signed by 100 legislators, the draft was presented to the Presiding Board of Majlis on Wednesday.

“If the bill is approved, the government will be obliged to complete nuclear infrastructure at Fordo and Natanz [facilities] if sanctions [against Iran] are ratcheted up, new sanctions are imposed, the country’s nuclear rights are violated and the Islamic Republic of Iran’s ‘peaceful’ nuclear rights are ignored by members of P5+1,” Iranian lawmaker Seyyed Mehdi Mousavinejad said on Wednesday.

The bill would oblige the government to put the Arak heavy water reactor into operation and enrich uranium to the 60-percent purity level in order to provide fuel for submarine engines if the sanctions are tightened and Iran’s nuclear rights are ignored, the MP underscored.

We noted in our Iconoclast post on the new US Senate sanctions bill:

Clearly, these Senators are skeptical that an ultimate agreement can be achieved with the Islamic Regime in Tehran based on the P5+1 interim agreement and Joint Plan of Action (JPA). This despite President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry’s lobbying effort aimed at providing a hiatus to resolve issues with Iran. They are not the only ones; French Foreign Minister Fabius also renewed his dour prediction that a final agreement to prevent nuclear breakout and a weapons delivery capability may not be possible.  The US Senators and French Foreign Minister Fabius can point to a Press TV news release with comments by Ali Akbar Salehi, Iranian head of their Atomic Energy Organization.  Salehi said “the country’s nuclear facilities, including Arak heavy water reactor, will continue running, dismissing Western governments’ call on Tehran to suspend activities at the facility”.

Kirk’s and Menendez’s statements introducing the new legislation reflected a deepening skepticism on Capitol Hill and in polls across America and in Israel that Iran will honor any agreements.  This is based on its track record of deception, relentless pursuit of nuclear hegemony in the Middle East and its global reach of terrorism against the West.

We further noted President Obama’s objections to the new US Senate sanctions bill:

President Obama in his year end press conference, prior to his departure for a vacation with family in Hawaii, responded to questions about the new Senate sanctions initiative, saying:

What I’ve said to members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, is there is no need for new sanctions legislation, not yet.

Now, if Iran comes back and says, we can’t give you assurances that we’re not going to weaponize, if they’re not willing to address some of their capabilities that we know could end up resulting in them having breakout capacity, it’s not going to be hard for us to turn the dials back, strengthen sanctions even further. I’ll work with members of Congress to put even more pressure on Iran. But there’s no reason to do it right now.

Press TV  noted what immediately prompted the new Majlis uranium acceleration bill:

Moreover, the administration of US President Barack Obama on December 12 issued new sanctions against more than a dozen companies  and individuals for “providingsupport for” Iran’s nuclear energy program.  [For details see: US Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Asset Control Sanctions Designations, December 12, 2013]

The US Treasury Department said it was freezing assets and banning transactions of entities that attempt to evade the sanctions against Iran.

This is while under a nuclear agreement reached in Geneva last month, the United States should not impose fresh economic sanctions against Iran over the next six months.

Meanwhile, US National Security Adviser Susan Rice said on December 23rd that Washington seeks to include “triggers” in any final nuclear deal with Iran to automatically re-impose sanctions if Tehran violates the terms of the agreement.

The Islamic regime never ceases to threaten that they will not be deterred in achievement of their nuclear program objectives. That may be triggered by possible passage of new strengthened sanctions legislation or breakdowns in negotiations towards a final agreement based in part on the P5+1 Interim Agreement reached in Geneva on November 24, 2013.  Skepticism abounds about possible achievement of such a final agreement. Hence, concerns about possible military action should the process breakdown.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on The New English Review.

All Praises due Sens. Kirk and Menendez on Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act

Yesterday, as I entered a December monthly luncheon meeting of the Tiger Bay Club in Pensacola I was taken aside by a fellow member who told me how much he valued the work of Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) on the latest Iran sanctions effort.  We were there to hear David Wasserman of the Cook Report and assistant editor of the National Journalgive a presentation on the 2014 electoral map for the crucial midterm elections for President Obama. He is seemingly in trouble over the debacle of his keystone domestic program, the Affordable Care Act.  We have great respect for Sen. Kirk given our September 2008 NER interview with him when he was a Member of the US House of Representatives from a suburban Chicago  Congressional District, involved with the bi-partisan effort working on early Iran nuclear sanctions legislation.

My Tiger Bay colleague was referring to new bipartisan sanctions legislation, the Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act co-sponsored by Sen. Kirk, a ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  Prominent among the 26  co-sponsors of the new sanctions legislation were Sens. Casey (D-PA), Graham (R-SC), McCain (R-AZ), Rubio (R-FL), Schumer (D-NY), Warner (D-VA). Clearly, these Senators are skeptical that an ultimate agreement can be achieved with the Islamic Regime in Tehran based on the P5+1 interim agreement and Joint Plan of Action (JPA). This despite President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry’s lobbying effort aimed at providing a hiatus to resolve issues with Iran. They are not the only ones; French Foreign Minister Fabius also renewed his dour prediction that a final agreement to prevent nuclear breakout and a weapons delivery capability may not be possible.  The US Senators and French Foreign Minister Fabius can point to a Press TV news release with comments by Ali Akbar Salehi, Iranian head of their Atomic Energy Organization.  Salehi said the country’s nuclear facilities, including Arak heavy water reactor, will continue running, dismissing Western governments’ call on Tehran to suspend activities at the facility”.

Kirk’s and Menendez’s statements introducing the new legislation reflected a deepening skepticism on Capitol Hill and in polls across America and in Israel that Iran will honor any agreements.  This is based on its track record of deception, relentless pursuit of nuclear hegemony in the Middle East and its global reach of terrorism against the West.  They commented:

“The American people rightfully distrust Iran’s true intentions and they deserve an insurance policy to defend against Iranian deception during negotiations,” Sen. Kirk said. “This is a responsible, bipartisan bill to protect the American people from Iranian deception and I urge the Majority Leader to give the American people an up or down vote.”

“Current sanctions brought Iran to the negotiating table and a credible threat of future sanctions will require Iran to cooperate and act in good faith at the negotiating table,” said Sen. Menendez, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “The Iranians last week blamed the Administration for enforcing sanctions; now, they criticize Congress. The burden rests with Iran to negotiate in good faith and verifiably terminate its nuclear weapons program. Prospective sanctions will influence Iran’s calculus and accelerate that process toward achieving a meaningful diplomatic resolution.”

Jennifer Rubin in a Washington Post column, Friday, “Congress is trying to stop a war, not start one”, outlined what the new bi-partisan sanctions legislation contains:

. . . to enact sanctions if Iran cheats during the interim agreement or fails to reach a final deal and to reaffirm the parameters of a final deal (terms embodied in United Nations resolutions and articulated by three presidents, including this one).

Those parameters include “dismantl[ing] Iran’s illicit nuclear infrastructure, including enrichment and reprocessing capabilities and facilities, the heavy water reactor and production plant at Arak, and any nuclear weapon components and technology, so that Iran is precluded from a nuclear breakout capability and prevented from pursuing both uranium and plutonium pathways to a nuclear weapon.” In addition, Iran must come into compliance with all U.N. resolutions and allow round-the-clock inspections.

The bill includes broad waiver authority for the Administration. (This had been a concern for some Democrats.)

At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, President Obama’s Press Spokesman Jay Carney fired back, “We don’t think this action is necessary. We don’t think it will be enacted. If it were [passed] the president would veto it.”

President Obama in his year end press conference, prior to his departure for a vacation with family in Hawaii, responded to questions about the new Senate sanctions initiative, saying:

What I’ve said to members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, is there is no need for new sanctions legislation, not yet.

Now, if Iran comes back and says, we can’t give you assurances that we’re not going to weaponize, if they’re not willing to address some of their capabilities that we know could end up resulting in them having breakout capacity, it’s not going to be hard for us to turn the dials back, strengthen sanctions even further. I’ll work with members of Congress to put even more pressure on Iran. But there’s no reason to do it right now.

Referring to a recent Administration action black-listing 12 Iranian companies following the P5+1 interim agreement, Jonathan Schanzer of the Washington, DC –based Foundation for Defense of Democracies commented in a Politico column, “The White House Can’t Have it Both Ways on Iran”:

Actively punishing Iran for its mendacity while trying to selectively reduce other sanctions (in this case, automotive, petrochemicals and precious metals) for the sake of diplomacy projects two competing messages. It should come as no surprise that this dual approach has inspired the confidence of neither Iran nor Congress. Indeed, the only actors out there who are heartened by Washington’s conflicted policies are the companies eyeing investments in Iran. They see confusion, and therefore ambiguity. And that’s a whole lot better than the investment environment of just a few months ago, when Iran appeared to be completely off limits.

Watch this Wall Street Journal video interview with Schanzer of FDD by Mary Kissel discussing “Totaling up Iran’s Sweet Sanction Deal”:

In our recent post on the efficacy of sanctions we concluded:

…military force coupled with improved sanctions may be the only option that brings the Islamofanatics in Tehran to heel.  Israel demonstrated that in both Iraq (Operation Opera 1981) and Syria (Operation Orchard 2007). Despite initial criticism, the US subsequently showed begrudging respect. That is not lost on the worried Saudis and the Gulf Emirates, critical of US policies in the roiling Middle East.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on The New English Review.