Iran deal tantalizingly close, but US faces new hurdles

Last week’s attack on author Salman Rushdie and the indictment of an Iranian national in a plot to kill former national security adviser John Bolton have given the Biden administration new headaches as it tries to negotiate a return to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.

A resolution can be very close. But as the United States and Europe weigh Iran’s latest response to an EU proposal described as the West’s final offer, the administration faces new, potentially insurmountable domestic political obstacles to forging a lasting deal .

Critics of the deal in Congress who have long vowed to blow up any pact have increased their opposition to negotiations with a country whose leadership has refused to rescind death threats against Rushdie or Bolton. Iran also vows to avenge the Trump administration’s 2020 assassination of a top Iranian general by killing former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Iran’s envoy Brian Hook, both under paid security protection for taxpayers 24 hours a day.

While these threats are not covered by the deal, which only concerns Iran’s nuclear program, they underscore the deal’s opponents’ arguments that Iran cannot be trusted with the billions of dollars in sanctions relief he will receive if and when he and the US return to the country. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, a signature foreign policy achievement of the Obama administration that President Donald Trump withdrew from in 2018.

“This is a harder deal to sell than the 2015 deal, as this time there are no illusions that it will serve to moderate Iranian behavior or lead to greater cooperation between the United States and Iran,” he said. said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iranian expert at the Carnegie Endowment. for International Peace.

“The Iranian government will get tens of billions in sanctions relief, and the regime’s organizing principle will remain opposition to the United States and violence against its critics, both at home and abroad,” he said.

Iran has denied any link to Rushdie’s alleged attacker, a US citizen who was charged with attempted murder and has pleaded not guilty in the August 12 stabbing at a literary event in the West New York. But Iranian state media have celebrated Iran’s longstanding dislike of Rushdie since the 1988 publication of his book “The Satanic Verses,” which some believe is insulting to Islam.

Media linked to Iran’s leadership have praised the attacker for following a 1989 decree, or fatwa, calling for Rushdie’s death signed by Iran’s then-supreme leader, the Ayatollah there Ruhollah Khomeini.

And the man who was accused of plotting to kill Bolton is a member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. The Justice Department alleges that the IRGC tried to pay $300,000 to the United States to avenge the death of Qassam Suleimani, the head of its elite Quds Force, who was killed by a US airstrike in Iraq in 2020.

“I think it’s delusional to believe that a regime that you’re about to sign a meaningful arms control agreement with can be relied on to meet its obligations or even take negotiation seriously when it’s plotting the assassination of a former high-level government official and current government officials,” Bolton told reporters Wednesday.

“The attack on Salman Rushdie appears to have had a Revolutionary Guard component,” Bolton said. “We must stop this artificial division when dealing with the government of Iran between its nuclear activities on the one hand and its terrorist activities on the other.” Others agree.

“Granting anti-terrorism sanctions relief amid ongoing terrorist plots on American soil is somewhere between outrageous and insane,” said Rich Goldberg, a former Trump administration national security council member and critic of agreements for some time now he is a senior member of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. which has also lobbied against returning to the JCPOA.

While acknowledging the seriousness of the plots, administration officials say they are unrelated to the nuclear issue and do nothing to change their long-held belief that a nuclear-armed Iran would be more dangerous and less constrained than an Iran without one.

“The JCPOA is about the single, central challenge that we face with Iran, the core challenge, what would be the most threatening challenge that we could face from Iran, and that is a nuclear weapon,” the spokesman said this week of the State Department, Ned Price.

“There is no doubt that a nuclear-armed Iran would feel an even greater degree of impunity and pose an even greater threat, a much greater threat, to countries in the region and potentially far beyond.” “All the challenges we face with Iran, whether it’s its support for proxies, its support for terrorist groups, its ballistic missile program, its malign cyber activities, every one of them would be more difficult to face if Iran had a nuclear weapons program,” he said.

That argument, however, will be challenged in Congress by lawmakers who opposed the 2015 deal, saying it gave Iran a path to developing nuclear weapons by time-limiting more onerous restrictions on its nuclear activities. They say there is now even more tangible evidence that Iran’s malign behavior makes it impossible to deal with.

Two of the deal’s most outspoken critics, Republican senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Tom Cotton of Arkansas, have weighed in on what Rushdie’s attack should mean for the administration.

“The Ayatollahs have been trying to assassinate Salman Rushdie for decades,” Cruz said. “His incitement and contacts with this terrorist led to an attack. This terrorist attack must be condemned in its entirety. The Biden administration must finally stop appeasing the Iranian regime.” “Iran’s leaders have been calling for the assassination of Salman Rushdie for decades,” Cotton said. “We know they are trying to assassinate American officials today. Biden must immediately end negotiations with this terrorist regime.” Under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, or INARA, the administration must submit any deal with Iran for congressional review within five days of being sealed. That begins a 30-day review period during which lawmakers can intervene and no penalty relief can be offered.

That schedule means that even if a deal is reached next week, the administration won’t be able to begin moving forward on sanctions relief until late September, just a month before the crucial U.S. election. half a term in Congress. In addition, it will take longer for Iran to begin to see the benefits of this relief due to logistical constraints.

While critics of the current deal in Congress are unlikely to be able to hammer out a deal, if Republicans regain control of Congress in the midterms, they may be able to overturn any sanctions relief.

“Even if Iran accepts President Biden’s full capitulation and agrees to re-enter the Iran nuclear deal, Congress will never vote to remove sanctions,” the Republican minority told the House Services Committee on Wednesday. Armas de la Cambra in a tweet. “In fact, Republicans in Congress will work to strengthen sanctions against Iran.”

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