Iran Wields a Stick. Obama Offers Carrots.
By Eli Lake
July 10, 2015
threaten an Iranian." Iran's foreign minister, Javad Zarif, is reported
to have said this to his European Union counterpart this week in the overtime
negotiations over a nuclear deal in Vienna.
for Iran, it is not being threatened in these talks. President Obama has shown
little interest in reining in the regime. Indeed, as the Wall Street Journal reported
last month, Obama has in recent years tried to entice Iran by urging U.S. allies
to release convicted Iranian arms smugglers. Obama writes Iran's Supreme Leader
hopeful letters from time to time. In his recorded messages celebrating
Nowruz, the Persian New Year, Obama has emphasized that he approaches Iran with
respect. In December, the president even mused
that after a nuclear deal with Iran, the country may go on to become a
"successful regional power."
principle of "never threaten" does not cut both ways. The New York
this week that Iran's Coordination Council of Islamic Propaganda is urging the
citizenry to celebrate Friday's annual Quds Day (named for the Arabic word for
Jerusalem) with such slogans as "Death to America" and "Death to
spokesman for the Iran-supported League of the Righteous told me earlier this
year in Iraq that his group was prepared at any time to turn their guns again on
American soldiers. When the Iran-supported Houthi rebels approached Yemen's
capital in January and February, the U.S. embassy felt so threatened that it
closed and sent its personnel home.
fairness to Obama, the nuclear deal with Iran is deliberately narrow. Any
agreement that results will not require Iran to end its support for terrorism,
free its political prisoners or even stop trying to acquire missiles that could
carry a nuke. The narrowness that is liberating for Iran is also liberating for
the U.S. Obama in May announced that he will be selling billions of dollars'
worth of new weapons systems to Iran's regional rivals and America's traditional
Arab allies in the Middle East.
Monday, deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes defended
the deal's narrowness in two ways. He said the White House would support a deal
only if it would provide limits on Iran's nuclear program even if the regime
itself has not changed. But he added, "We believe a world in which there is
a deal with Iran is much more likely to produce an evolution in Iran's behavior
than a world where there is no deal."
are two problems with this statement. To start, Iran has not modified or evolved
its behavior since November 2013, when an interim agreement known as the Joint
Plan of Action was agreed. According to the State Department's latest report on
international terrorism, Iran's support for terror is "undiminished."
Iran continues to support Bashar al-Assad in Syria and anti-government rebels in
Yemen. Allies of the U.S. say Iran has only become more aggressive since signing
an interim agreement. What makes the White House think it will become less
aggressive after signing a final one?
second problem is more fundamental. If Iran does not end its shadow war against
our allies in the Middle East, then the deal being negotiated in Vienna will be
a bad one, no matter how stringent the inspections or how crippling the
"snap-back" sanctions. The deal will unfreeze up to $150 billion in
Iranian revenue now stuck in overseas bank accounts. If Iran's behavior doesn't
evolve, then a portion of that money will go to terrorists and militias who
threaten our allies.
there is also a problem of precedent. The U.S. has spent much diplomatic capital
over the last decade to persuade other countries to forgo their right to enrich
uranium and not erect the kind of infrastructure Iran has built under the
penalty of U.N. sanctions up to now. To leave that in place, with no change in
Iranian behavior, sends the message that rogue proliferation and sponsorship of
Obama thinks about his legacy, he would do well to consider this. By agreeing to
narrow the terms of the agreement to only Iran's nuclear program, Obama has lost
sight of why so many in the world were concerned about Iran's nuclear program in
the first place. Since 1979, Iran has not been a normal nation that should
expect to enjoy normal rights. Iran has been a revolutionary power that has
nurtured fanatic militias and instructed them at times to kill civilians. The
regime in charge of Iran celebrates terrorists. It names streets and buildings
for them and honors them as martyrs.
the nuclear discussions began in earnest in January 2014, Zarif drove
this point home when he laid a wreath at the grave site of Imadh Mughniyeh, a
Hezbollah master terrorist who helped plan the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine
barracks in Lebanon. When asked about this by NBC News this year, Zarif
dissembled. He tried to distinguish between the terrorists his country supports
and the terrorists his country is now offering to fight against in Iraq and
Syria. "We’re not talking about a group that came from all over the world
to Syria or to Iraq to wreak havoc," he
said. "We’re talking about people defending their country, defending
their territory against occupation."
is no reason today to think that the view of Zarif or the regime he represents
has changed on terrorism. Nor is there much reason to think it will change even
if there is a nuclear deal. Iran is not subtle about how it threatens its
enemies; just watch for the slogans this week during Quds Day festivities in