Vigorous debate is already underway in Congress over whether to accept or reject the multilateral agreement designed to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, but former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton says the vast majority of the deal will go into effect regardless of what Congress does, meaning Iran will get the bomb.
According to the legislation passed earlier this year, Congress has 60 days to vote on the deal. President Obama vows to veto any rejection of the plan, meaning Republicans would need considerable help from Democrats to amass the two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate needed to override the veto.
Even if that happens, Bolton says Iran and Obama still get most of what they want.
“The deal itself can’t be stopped by Congress. Even if they got a veto-proof majority in both houses, the only thing they could do is prevent Obama from lifting American sanctions. Once the UN Security Council lifts sanctions, the Europeans, the Russians, the Chinese, everybody else will rescind their national sanctions,” said Bolton.
While keeping the U.S. sanctions in place would temper the financial relief for Iran, Bolton says they will not provide meaningful resistance for the Iranian nuclear agenda.
“Even if the opponents in Congress prevail, our sanctions will remain in place but nobody else’s will. That means Iran can get whatever it needs somewhere else in the world,” said Bolton.
“Absolutely Iran is on it’s way to nuclear weapons and free of economic sanctions to boot,” he said.
Bolton says the next president can “renounce” this agreement but that may not accomplish much. In addition to the UN and many countries planning to lift sanctions, Bolton expects Iran to take advantage of the next 18 months.
“Iran can read the calendar just as well as we can. Nobody knows who will be elected in November of 2016, but they know their man in the White House for the next 18 months. I think you can count on the ayatollahs to take every bit of advantage they can out of Obama’s remaining days in the presidency,” he said.
Bolton has pleaded for the past few years for the Obama administration not to strike a deal with Iran. Now that the terms of the agreement are public, he says the reality is worse than what he feared.
“Unbelievably, it’s even worse,” said Bolton. “On issue after issue, Iran has won their point almost to the exclusion of any benefit to the United States. In particular, I do think we have legitimized this regime, this state sponsor of terrorism. We’ve legitimized their nuclear program. We’ve left them with the technology that critical for a would-be nuclear weapons state.”
In addition to his service at the United Nations, Bolton spent the first four years of the George W. Bush administration as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security. He says that background shows him just how feeble this nuclear deal really is.
“I can speak as an old arms control negotiator myself. Reading the exact language the parties have agreed to shows how many loopholes really exist. So when the president, Secretary Kerry and others talk about what the deal provides, they’re only occasionally being accurate. It’s almost like it’s a matter of coincidence,” said Bolton.
What is an example of these loopholes?
“There’s just so much flexibility for them to obstruct the work of the international inspectors and others, to build up stockpiles of uranium even though they’re supposedly committed to reducing them and to begin to take steps in full, plain view of international inspectors that will bring them closer to a real nuclear weapons capability,” said Bolton.
“For example, they will not only be allowed to continue to do research and development on advanced centrifuges, they’ll be able to test that with radioactive material. They may not be able to accumulate more enriched uranium. What they need is not to accumulate it but to test it, so that these more advanced centrifuges, once perfected, could be manufactured in secret somewhere else,” he said.
Bolton says that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
“There are more examples than time that we have,” he said. “The inspection provision is full of loopholes. The requirement to disclose possible military dimensions of their program is more loophole than agreement. The so-called snapback provision designed to bring sanctions back into effect if Iran is found to be in violation is extraordinarily weak. The list goes on and on.”
One of the concerns getting the most attention is the U.S. concession on inspections. After months of insisting upon anywhere anytime inspections, the Obama administration agreed to have inspectors request permission to inspect facilities newly suspected of carrying on nuclear activities. Under the agreement, a minimum of 24 days would separate the request from the actual inspection.
Why did the U.S. back off this supposedly non-negotiable position?
“I think the Iranians just ground the administration down on it. So when you hear the president say, ‘We have full transparency here,’ that’s a fantasy,” said Bolton. “The fact is the terms of the agreement give Iran innumerable opportunities to obstruct the [International Atomic Energy Agency] inspectors and to conceal and hide damaging information.”
Bolton would never strike a deal with Iran because he believes it would legitimize the Iranian regime and because he’s confident they will cheat on any agreement. But he says any hope for a a decent deal collapsed when the Obama administration made a critical error early in the negotiations.
“The biggest mistake the administration made was right at the beginning of this latest round of negotiations two years ago when they conceded that Iran could continue to do uranium enrichment,” said Bolton, noting the UN Security Council was adamant that Iran stop enriching uranium as far back as 2006 because enriched uranium is the key to any hopes of any nuclear proliferation.
Defenders of the agreement, including Obama, insist blatant violation of the terms by Iran would not only result in renewed sanctions but keep a military option on the table. Bolton says once Iran has nukes, that option becomes far more complicated.
“The world’s main funder of terrorists having nuclear weapons gives them impunity from retaliation for their terrorist sponsoring activities. Think back to 9/11. If Al Qaeda and the Taliban had had nuclear weapons back then, would we have been so quick to overthrow the Al Qaeda/Taliban regime in Afghanistan? I don’t think so,” he said.
“I think we would have, quite rightly, had to worry about their retaliation with nuclear weapons. Iran, I think, will soon be in that position,” said Bolton.