The first fruit of the Republican victory in the midterm elections is the failure of President Obama's efforts to give away everything to Iran in the nuclear negotiations. If Democrats had kept their Senate majority on Nov. 4, we would all be wincing as Obama triumphantly announced a "peace" deal with Iran that would have all but invited the terrorist regime to acquire nuclear weapons.
It is only because of the certainty that a Republican Congress would pass legislation condemning and possibly blocking the nonproliferation deal that his efforts at appeasement fell short. Neither the U.S. nor Britain, France nor Germany, not even the European Union (the negotiating partners) wanted to sign a deal that the U.S. Congress would condemn as a giveaway.
Behind this victory is the hand of Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.). While I have condemned him from this space in previous columns, it is time his singular accomplishments in fighting the Iranian nuclear project be recognized. Along with Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), he has achieved a broad bipartisan consensus that the Iranian nuclear program must be dismantled and destroyed.
With Menendez's backing, it might even be possible to override an Obama veto of sanctions legislation once the new Congress meets. Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Bob Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) and, perhaps, the two California Democrats Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein will be under heavy constituent pressure to back a sanctions bill. Add in what remains of the conservative Democratic bloc in the Senate, like Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), and you begin to approach the necessary 67 votes.
The key point as the new year dawns is that it is not enough to let the current situation freeze. The sanctions relief, granted in anticipation of a final deal one year ago, must be rolled back to punish Iran for failing to move ahead and for cheating on the sanctions that remain. Iranian oil sales have averaged 1.34 million barrels per day, about half of the pre-sanctions level. Without progress in the negotiations, it is imperative that Iran be denied the almost $40 billion it stands to reap from even its current level of oil output and sales.
Iran retains and operates all of its 10,000 nuclear centrifuges and refuses to dismantle any. The most it will offer is to operate them more slowly and to hold down enrichment to below-bomb levels. With a stockpile of 3 percent to 5 percent enriched uranium, to say nothing of 20 percent enrichment, a bomb is just a short time away whenever the ayatollah flips the switch.
Iran also refuses to stop construction of its heavy water reactor at Arak or even to convert it to a light water reactor steps necessary to stop the development of a plutonium nuclear weapon. Nor has Iran agreed to a long-term deal or to adequate inspections to assure that any arrangement is, in fact, enforced.
Iran would not be required to moderate its pursuit of ballistic missile capability nor to halt research and development on nuclear weaponry.
As Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told his people last month: "The centrifuges are spinning and will never stop." His foreign minister echoed his confidence, saying: "I'm confident that any final deal will have a serious and not a token Iranian enrichment program coupled with removal of sanctions."
Until the Republicans won the midterms, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) could be counted upon to kill any Iran sanctions bill and to not allow it to come up for a potentially politically embarrassing vote. Were it to pass, it would put former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a tough spot. If she were to back a congressional sanctions bill, she would split with Obama and legitimize opposition to his diplomacy. But were she to back the president, defying many Democrats, she would ensure that whether we could trust Iran would be a central issue in the elections. And we know how that would come out.