The senior diplomatic advisor to the French President, Jaques Audibert, reportedly said that he “thought if the Congress voted it down, that we could get a better deal” in spite of Secretary of State John Kerry’s assertions that Congress’ voting down the deal would lead to disaster. Iran, meanwhile, says that Kerry’s description of the deal is for US “domestic consumption.”
Audibert’s remarks were considered a “direct rebuttal to Kerry,” who in his remarks to the Council on Foreign Relations set out an “apocalyptic” view of the Congressional debate on the deal. Kerry painted the deal as a one time offer, without which Iran would never come back to the table. Audibert and others believe that Congress’ refusal would serve as a disciplinary mechanism to require Iran to agree to stricter terms.
Whether or not that is accurate depends on one’s view of the deal. The deal offers Iran substantial immediate benefits, including the ability to obtain advanced nuclear technology from the West, and an unfreezing of vast assets that the US State Department agrees “may” be used for terrorism. In addition to which, the deal does not show any sign of restraining plutonium enrichment at the Bushehr pressurized water reactor, the Iranian reactor most closely tied to the military nuclear program. Nor does the deal require Iran to admit to its previous military nuclear activities, without which admission we will not know what they have sought over the past decade.
Meanwhile, Iranian official Hamid Baeidinejad from the foreign ministry claims that American remarks about the restrictions on Iran under the deal do not reflect the actual terms of the deal. He said that such remarks are only meant to “calm opponents in the Congress and Zionist lobbies to soothe the internal conditions prevailing over debates on the nuclear agreement in [the United States].”
If that is true, then the administration has been painting a false picture for Congress. Is there any reason to believe this claim? In fact, there is. The US administration has classified the “side deals” in a way that appears to be illegal. Iran has been given terms under which it will be allowed to inspect itself in the event of a clash with the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA. Again, the Bushehr reactor is not treated under the terms of the deal with which the public and Congress have been presented. This is also true for the Parchin military complex, which is handled under a separate agreement to whose terms the United States has no access. The United States Congress is being asked to accept not only the public deals, but a set of secret agreements whose contents are not known even to the administration. The Congress itself has no idea what it is being asked to accept, and neither does the State Department, nor even the President.
Could the United States obtain a better deal if Congress rejected the one on offer? It depends on whether Iran is determined to obtain the benefits of sanctions relief. Sanctions are thought to be effective in the case of Iran, as they are the strictest sanctions ever enacted by the United Nations. These sanctions have been especially effective against Iran’s oil economy, which could benefit from $60 billion in additional investment once restrictions on it are removed at the international level.
Unless the Congress is convinced that such levers would have no influence on Iran, there is good reason to believe that rejecting the deal would force Iran back to the table on more favorable terms. It might be possible to renegotiate the cessation of sanctions against sales of heavy weapons and ballistic missiles to Iran, for example. More clear oversight on Iran’s nuclear program might be won, including an ability for international inspectors to access those sights directly rather than inspecting only samples provided by the Iranian government. Such concessions might make the difference between a farce and a truly effective plan. Congress should reject the deal in order to pursue these options.