White House Loses Leverage in Iran Talks

Fmr. officials: Iran holding all the cards in nuke talks

Experts say the Obama administration is losing leverage in its talks with Iran
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry / AP
December 5, 2013

As the Obama administration works to finalize the details on an interim deal aimed at freezing Iran’s nuclear program, former top U.S. officials and lawmakers say that the White House has squandered all its leverage, leaving Iran in the driver’s seat.

After announcing that Iran and Western nations known as the P5+1 had reached an interim accord two weeks ago in Geneva, the White House admitted last week that the deal still needed to be finalized at a later date.

This admission was followed by the revelation that the Obama administration is now "prepared" to let Iran keep its contested uranium enrichment program under a final deal that has yet to even be negotiated with Tehran.

The diplomatic back-and-forth and willingness to make concession to Iran before it begins a six-month freeze of its nuclear program has lawmakers and top former U.S. officials concerned that Tehran has conned the West.

"I don’t think they [the White House] had much leverage to start with, and they’ve got less now," former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton told the Washington Free Beacon.

Tehran would be required to temporarily halt some of its nuclear activities under the yet-to-be finalized deal. It would receive at least $7 billion in economic sanctions relief as well as the ability to continue some nuclear activities in exchange.

Bolton and others lambasted the agreement and accused the White House of capitulating on key nuclear thresholds before a final deal has even been brought to the bargaining table.

"Tehran can see just how desperate Obama is for a deal," Bolton said. "The perception of weakness they see will cause them to go forward."

"In fact, my view is that Iran isn’t going to stall or slow down" its nuclear work, he said. "Now, if I were Iran, I would press ahead and give more superficial concessions to get more sanctions relief."

Iran has announced in recent days that it plans to build at least three new reactors with the help of the Russians. This would significantly boost its nuclear output.

These nuclear announcements have been accompanied by an uptick in military movement.

Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) claimed last week that it had mastered ballistic missile technology, which would allow it to potentially fire a nuclear payload over great distances.

Lawmakers and congressional insiders insist that the administration has ignored warning signs from Iran and plowed ahead with a deal that could end up benefiting Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

"What leverage does the U.S. have when the Obama administration is easing up on sanctions while a final agreement is still just a tiny speck on a far away horizon?" asked Rep. Peter Roskam (R., Ill.)

"The single most significant thing we can do to help stop a nuclear weapons capable Iran is to pass crippling new sanctions in the Senate and further tighten the vice, forcing Iran’s leadership to choose between abandoning this dangerous path or facing certain economic ruin," Roskam told the Free Beacon.

The White House opposes these new sanctions and has reportedly been lobbying its allies on Capitol Hill to fight against them.

This anti-sanctions push has left congressional insiders with few options.

"Unless Israel is willing to strike, I think we need to start mentally preparing ourselves for a world with Iranian nuclear weapons," said one senior congressional aide.

"Iran has played Obama like a violin—we've lost all our negotiating leverage and already publicly admitted that compliance with past [U.N.] Security Council resolutions are merely a maximalist negotiating position," the source said.

Former Bush administration official Elliott Abrams said that as the White House fights against new sanctions, the Iranians "are acting boldly, like people who just won something."

"The Iranian regime has been using its time announcing new reactors and new ‘red lines,’" said Abrams, who served as National Security Council (NSC) senior director for Near East and North African Affairs under Bush.

"And the White House seems concerned above all not to make [the Iranians] angry. It's bizarre," Adams said. "I mean, what would they do if they were angry—announce new reactors and new ‘red lines?’"

"The administration is much more concerned about the feelings of unelected officials in Tehran than those of elected officials in Washington," he said.

The White House will likely forge ahead at this point and ink a deal with Iran, according to Bolton

"For them to turn their back on the interim deal, [to admit] that this was just smoke and mirrors by Iran, is not only admitting they made a mistake, it’s an admission that their fundamental ideological proclivity is wrong," he said.

David Brog, executive director of the Christians United for Israel (CUFI), said that soft negotiations in Geneva has left Tehran with little fear of the West.

"In the past, Iran at least had the courtesy to deceive us about their nuclear intentions," Brog said. "They no longer feel the need to do so. By agreeing to that deal in Geneva, we've not only released the economic pressure on Iran -- we've shown our weak hand. Iran has nothing left to fear from us, they know it, and they're acting accordingly."