Reacting to the Iran hawks’ contention that piling more sanctions on Iran will “help” diplomacy, Colin Kahl poses the following thought experiment:
Suppose the Majles, Iran’s legislature, passed legislation tomorrow, over Rouhani’s objections, declaring that Iran would resume and escalate its nuclear activities in six months’ time if Washington failed to live up to its Geneva commitments and agree to a final deal that fully respects Iran’s nuclear rights. Imagine that the legislation threatened to resume enrichment of nearly bomb-grade 20 percent uranium (halted by Geneva); bring all 16,000 first-generation centrifuges at the Natanz enrichment site online (only 9,000 were operating pre-Geneva) and move to install thousands more; activate the 1,000 next-generation centrifuges currently installed at Natanz (none are operational now) and step up planned assembly of 2,000 new ones; activate all 3,000 centrifuges at the deeply buried Fordow enrichment site (only 1,000 were spinning pre-Geneva), making the facility fully operation for the first time; begin enriching to the even-closer-to-bomb-grade 60 percent level for “civilian naval propulsion”; and significantly accelerate fuel production for the Arak plutonium reactor.
Suppose further that when asked by an Iranian reporter whether this legislation risked undercutting diplomacy, speaker of the Majles Ali Larijani pooh-poohed the notion, assuring the media that this in no way violates the terms agreed to in Geneva. After all, Larjani would say, “Iran is doing nothing now. We are simply creating a sword of Damocles as leverage to ensure the Americans live up to their end of the bargain and accept a final agreement that respects Iran’s red lines.”
How would U.S. lawmakers view such a move? Would they see it as consistent with the letter and spirit of Geneva? Would it enhance American support for diplomacy? Would the threatened Iranian escalation be helpful to Obama as he works to convince skeptics on Capitol Hill of the need to back continued negotiations and support future compromise? Or would it put the administration on the defensive, confirm the worst American suspicions about Iranian intentions, complicate diplomacy and make a confrontation over the nuclear program more likely?
The sight of John Kerry testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday tried one’s faith in the legislative body. Kerry was professional and effective, but a majority of congressmen were clearly reading from Bibi’s talking points. It’s kind of amusing to see a congressman from Alabama somberly reading long quotations from the Times of Israel. It’s difficult to know in which cases congressmen and women actually hope that legislating new sanctions will destroy the Iran negotiations (I suspect most of them, but I’m not sure) and in which cases they credulously believe that a vote for more sanctions will actually aid the administration in negotiations, or at least be harmless. (As well as appease their AIPAC donors, inevitably a major consideration.)
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