Obama didn’t even wait for negotiations to begin caving on Iran sanctions

Last night, I wrote about the shameful deal President Obama is about to enter into with the Iranian regime. Iran will gain billions in financial relief without doing anything to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.

As Elliott Abrams says, not one centrifuge is taken apart; Natanz and other sites remain intact; not one ounce of enriched uranium is shipped overseas. Apparently Iran won’t enrich beyond 3.5 percent under this deal, but it can build up limitless stocks of low-enriched uranium. Beyond this, from all that appears, Iran has agreed only to make no further strides towards developing nukes for a period of six months.

Benjamin Netanyahu does not exaggerate when he calls this “the deal of a century for Iran.” And Michael Rubin does not exaggerate when he says “it looks like the White House is willing to give up on the effort to stop Iran’s nuclear program; it is, in effect, allowing Iran to have all the components necessary to complete a bomb when and if the Iranian government makes the decision to pursue that end.”

And now comes word, via Eli Lake and Josh Rogin, that Obama began to cave — from a position of enormous strength, given the crippling nature of the sanctions — without even waiting for negotiations to begin. Lake and Rogin report that “the Obama administration began softening sanctions on Iran after the election of Iran’s new president in June, months before the current round of nuclear talks in Geneva or the historic phone call between the two leaders in September.”

In other words, Obama seized upon the election of Rouhani to begin easing sanctions without having negotiated any concessions in return.

Let’s follow Lake and Rogin as they explain what happened:

[Pursuant to the sanctions regime] Obama has pressured Iran [by] isolating the country’s banks from the global financial sector, the networks that make modern international commerce possible. This in turn has led Iran to seek out front companies and cutouts to conduct routine international business, such as selling its crude oil.

In this cat and mouse game, the Treasury Department in recent years has routinely designated new entities as violators of sanctions, forcing Iran to adjust in turn. In the six weeks prior to the Iranian elections in June, the Treasury Department issued seven notices of designations of sanctions violators that included more than 100 new people, companies, aircraft, and sea vessels.

Since June 2013, however, when Rouhani was elected, the Treasury Department has only issued two designation notices that have identified six people and four companies as violating the Iran sanctions.

The designation notices are crucial in the fight to isolate Iran’s banking sector. As Lake and Rogin note, when an entity is designated as a sanctions violator the impact can be catastrophic for that entity. Why? Because banks and other investors almost never do business with the people and companies on a Treasury blacklist, given the risk of losing access to U.S. financial markets.

Is the sharp decrease in designations the result of fewer efforts to evade sanctions? Not at all. According to Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, “the Iranians are proliferating the number of front companies and cutouts to bust sanctions.”

Thanks to Obama, business has picked up considerably for Iran. Dubowitz estimates that Iran is now selling between 150,000 and 200,000 barrels of oil per day on the black market. It has profited from the illicit sale of over 35 million barrels of oil since Rouhani took office, with little effort by the United States to counter this, according to Dubowitz.

Business will pick up even more now. And Iran will remain as close as it is today to developing nuclear weapons — closer if it follows the North Korean example and violates its promise to halt progress.

As Jonathan Tobin reminds us, Obama fought the imposition of crippling sanctions in the first place. In the end, he went along them under duress — pressure from Congress and, above all, the need to persuade Israel that it was serious about preventing Iran from going nuclear, so Israel wouldn’t take military action.

It is not surprising, therefore, that Obama began moving away from sanctions the minute Rouhani was elected. At that point, he had his fig-leaf — an Iranian president who, far from threatening to nuke Israel, was sending out Jewish holiday greetings.

Netanyahu hasn’t lost the moral high ground to Rouhani in any objective sense. But he can no longer meet the almost impossibly high threshold needed to retain support for a hard line from an international community that hates him and dislikes Israel.

Thus Obama, confident that Israel won’t attack Iran, couldn’t wait to end a sanctions regime he didn’t favor to begin with.

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