Many of us are following the news of the latest talks in Vienna with Iran on pins and needles. We are watching every leak, every rumor and every news story out of the American press, the Arab press, the Israeli press—even out of the Iranian press—as an indicator of whether the United States and the Iranians will finally come to an agreement.
As the late Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had once wisely said: “We know what we know. We don’t know what we don’t know.” By the time you read this article, a deal might well have been reached … or perhaps not. As I write these words, it is important to reiterate what we do know.
We do know that on Jan. 26, 2021, when U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken stood before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for his confirmation hearings last January, he promised a “longer, stronger deal.” We also know that over the last 16 months there have been nine rounds of negotiations in Vienna and one in Doha, and a seemingly endless loop of negotiations over the past six months that were each dubbed to have been “the final offer.” We have heard over this period that U.S. officials “are running out of patience,” only to participate in yet another round of talks.
Yet as I write this, National Security Council communicator John Kirby has said that the U.S. review of the talks has been complete and that he has sent it back to the Iranian negotiators to review. However, the spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, Nassar Kanaani, stated that “Iran started reviewing the U.S. comments, and after the review, Tehran will submit its views to the coordinator.” So, it is not entirely unlikely this ping-pong game might continue.
However, it might not. We know that European Union High Commissioner Josep Borrell has submitted an offer to the Iranians and has said, “Most of them (counties involved in the talks) agree, but I still don’t have the answer from the United States, who I understand have to discuss it, and we expect during this week to receive an answer.” He had said on Aug. 22 that the Iranian response to the E.U. proposal was “reasonable.”
We should also know that what might seem “reasonable” to the E.U. chief negotiator, might not be reasonable for those that are forced to live in the same neighborhood with Iran. Those who are most existentially and immediately threatened by the Islamic Republic have not been invited to participate in these talks, including the Israelis and Israel’s Gulf partners. And as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had said, “If you are not invited to sit around the table, you are on the table.”
We should know that from the very start of these negotiations, the Americans greatly diminished our already eroding international posture by agreeing to the Iranian demand that our Iran special envoy, Robert Malley, not even be allowed into the same room with the other P5+1 nations and while the Russians and the Chinese have seats on the table.
We do know that the Russians stand a great deal to gain through this deal. As David Ignatius writes in The Washington Post on Aug. 24, “because of its depleted weapons supply in executing their brutal conflict in Ukraine, Russia has already purchased hundreds of Iranian manufactured ‘suicide drones’ to use in that conflict.”
Ignatius quotes an American intelligence official who warned, “This is not just a tactical alliance.” With China and India refusing to sell weapons to Russia, Iran could become an essential pipeline for weapons and money. “They know all the tricks in the book” in terms of evading sanctions, the intelligence official said of Iran. Iran can tap its existing infrastructure network of shell companies and other financial institutions in this sanctions-busting campaign. Iranian financial aid for Russia would be even easier if sanctions against Tehran are lifted as part of a renewal of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the intelligence officials warned.”
And we know that according to that, Russia is allowed to buy Iran’s highly enriched uranium, and we know that the Biden administration is reconsidering this. The murderous regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin has shown its true spots, and we are helping to empower them immensely through this deal. Moreover, on March 27, 2021, the Chinese government signed a massive 25-year economic agreement with Iran, pouring in at least $400 billion in return for Iranian oil.
One might do well to ask why we are empowering all of America’s enemies and abandoning our friends? Is it simply to sign a deal that fulfills a campaign promise before the midterm elections? Those of us who have studied history should understand that what might seem now to be a victory, will shortly prove to be immensely deleterious to the national security interests of the United States and her allies.
There are certain Iranian demands which have been made that would be clearly difficult for the Biden administration to agree to. For example, there is the long-standing issue the Iranians had demanded—that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) be removed from the State Department’s List of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.
The fact that this could be on the table in Vienna, as the U.S. Department of Justice has, as recently as Aug. 10, charged Sharam Poursafi, an IRGC member with the attempted assassination of former National Security Advisor John Bolton, where he was willing to pay $300,000 to his contacts in the United States. Assassination attempts have also been uncovered against former U.S. government officials, former director of the CIA Mike Pompeo and other high-ranking former American officials. The IRGC is also suspected to have been involved in a stabbing attack on author Salman Rushdie in New York State on Aug. 12.
This will be a very difficult sell to the American people. We know that on April 14, more than 900 Gold Star Families, whose loved ones have been murdered by the IRGC or have been personally wounded, signed a letter to U.S. President Joe Biden stating: “In our view, removing the IRGC’s terrorist designation would threaten American lives, harm veterans and Gold Star families, and empower a terrorist organization that continues to sponsor and commit attacks against U.S. interests and allies in the Middle East.”
We also know that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) voted to censure Iran because they had found traces of uranium at undeclared nuclear sights. As a result of that, on June 9, Iran turned off 27 cameras in its declared nuclear sites. IAEA director general Rafael Grossi called it a “fatal blow” to the negotiations. He had given them 30 days to reinstall the cameras; otherwise, there would be a “black hole” in his ability to monitor their nuclear program. As of today, the cameras have still not been reinstalled. Leaks have started, and we do not know if Iran will decide where and when the IAEA inspections will take place.
And finally, there is the outrageous Iranian demand that once this deal is signed, it will never be revoked by a future administration. That would mean that this would constitute an international treaty and would require two-thirds of the Senate to ratify it. It would never get the required 65 votes for passage.
And we also know there is an act of law, the Iranian Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015. That is what is called a constitutional “check and balance.” One way that we can ensure that the United States does not enter another disastrous deal with Iran is to insist that our members of Congress do their part and, once the details come out, have a free and open public debate on it, and finally vote on it.
Sarah N. Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), a pro-Israel and pro-American think tank and policy institute in Washington, D.C.
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