Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

Obama’s hold-your-nose Iran deal

  • Print

American politicians seem incapable of appraising nuclear talks with Tehran with a cool head.

The preliminary deal on Iran’s nuclear program that was finalized this week has turned into a political inkblot test, onto which supporters and opponents project their deepest fears.

This week’s accord will temporarily halt Iran’s production of 20 percent enriched uranium, reduce its stockpiles, and prevent the installation of new centrifuges and the start-up of a new plutonium reactor. But many U.S. senators seem worried that President Obama’s nuclear diplomacy will ultimately enable wily Iranians to go nuclear. Fifty-nine senators (including 16 Democrats) who fear Tehran’s intentions are pushing harsh new economic sanctions they claim will force Tehran to bargain in good faith.

The Obama team, on the other hand, sees the six-month interim accord as the first step toward a final deal that ends the nuclear threat and might moderate Tehran’s bad behavior in the region.

Both opponents and proponents of the deal could benefit from a reality check.

For starters, despite claims to the contrary, passage of the Kirk-Menendez bill would kill the talks. True, it was the harsh bite of economic sanctions — which halved Iran’s oil exports — that brought Iran to the table. But the provisions in this bill, known as the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2013, rule out any chance of a final deal.

The legislation would impose new sanctions to slash Iran’s oil exports to nearly zero — unless Iran completely dismantles its nuclear infrastructure, including any uranium enrichment facilities. The Iranians have made very clear that they will never totally give up their capacity to enrich, which they are entitled to if — a big if — they convince the world their program is peaceful.

There are many provisos that concerned senators could call for in a final agreement in order to delimit the Iranian program, but ruling out any low-level enrichment is unrealistic. So is the demand that Obama certify that this is the goal the United States seeks.

Equally disturbing is a provision in the bill that requires the United States to give military backing to Israel if it decides to take military action against Iran’s nuclear program. While U.S. support for Israel’s security is — and should be — strong, no president can make a blanket commitment to wage another Mideast war in undefined circumstances at another country’s discretion.

The White House angered senatorial supporters of the bill by daring them to admit they want a war with Iran. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., calls his bill "a diplomatic insurance policy" that will force Iran to close down its nuclear program. Yet demanding a perfect deal or none at all — the position of Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu, which has strong support in Congress — does doom diplomacy. This makes it fair to ask the 59 senators if they are ready for another Mideast war.

Indeed, the whole Iran debate would be healthier if it were possible to openly discuss what Americans are willing to do if there is no Iran deal.

"Those are issues nobody wants to deal with," says Kenneth Pollack, author of "Unthinkable: Iran, the Bomb, and American Strategy," because all of the options are bad.

"The real choice is between going to war and containing Iran," Pollack said this week at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia. (Pollack would choose containment, an option too rarely discussed in Washington.)

"I am convinced this administration has no desire to go to war with Iran, which is why they are so desirous of a deal, to a degree that sometimes worries me," Pollack adds.

Indeed, here’s the rub for Obama: He is correct to want to avoid a war with Iran, which would not destroy its nuclear program but might actually accelerate it — and would lead to untold negative consequences in an unstable region. But if he wants to win congressional support for a diplomatic deal — the best of the bad options — he must convince Congress that he won’t give away the store.

Unfortunately, the president’s overall Mideast policy does not create confidence. His failure to stand by his own red lines on Syria, and to bolster non-Islamist Syrian rebels, has convinced Arab, Israeli, and Iranian leaders that he is weak.

To win over Congress — where the vote on the Kirk-Menendez bill is on hold for now — Obama must do more than defend diplomacy. He must convince legislators that the White House is tough enough to hold out for the best possible deal, and to push back against dangerous Iranian behavior in Syria and Iraq.

The president must also make clear to Americans and to Congress that the options are all risky. With Iran, holding out for the perfect will eliminate any chance for a reasonable deal.


Trudy Rubin is a columnist and editorial-board member for the Philadelphia Inquirer.


— Philadelphia Inquirer

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Andrew Ladd talks about his injury

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Geese take cover in long grass in the Tuxedo Business Park near Route 90 Wednesday- Day 28– June 27, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • Bright sunflowers lift their heads toward the south east skies in a  large sunflower field on Hwy 206 and #1 Thursday Standup photo. July 31,  2012 (Ruth Bonneville/Winnipeg Free Press)

View More Gallery Photos


Did you watch the Bruce Jenner interview?

View Results

Ads by Google