Two years ago, the Obama administration set out to achieve a deal that would dismantle key elements of Iran’s nuclear program, freeze uranium enrichment for at least a decade, and beef up international inspections to ensure that Iran is not building a nuclear weapon. That was a deal worth pursuing — and it still is.
But a recent speech by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei raises serious questions about whether Iran’s ayatollahs will allow a deal like that to go forward. In a televised speech on Tuesday, Khamenei announced that freezing Iran’s program for 10 years is “not acceptable,” that foreigners will not be allowed to inspect Iran’s military sites, and that sanctions must be lifted before Iran meets its own obligations under the agreement. All three of those statements fly in the face of the framework agreement that Iranian negotiators signed in April. They also fly in the face of basic common sense. It’s possible that Khamenei is simply playing hardball in an attempt to squeeze any last drop of advantage in the final week before the self-imposed June 30 deadline. It’s also possible that he believes the United States will accept any deal, no matter how weak or impossible to verify.
If that’s the case, Secretary of State John Kerry should prove him wrong and hold Iranian negotiators to the terms they agreed to. If Iran is allowed to backtrack on its commitments now, it doesn’t bode well for compliance in the future. A vague, unverifiable deal won’t pass muster with the US Congress. If the nuclear deal needs a presidential veto to survive, then it may be too fragile to outlast this administration. That’s not in Iran’s interests, or the interests of the United States. US negotiators should aim for an acceptable deal that meets their standards, even if it means continuing discussions past the June 30 deadline. If the Iranian regime wants to get out from under sanctions, it must honor its commitments. At the end of the day, Iran needs this deal more than we do. Khamenei ought not overplay his hand.