Just wait for the congressional freakout that comes if world powers and Iran sign a comprehensive nuclear accord this summer. Negotiations advanced on Thursday with a framework agreement between Iran and the P5+1—the United States, UK, France, China, Russia and Germany—that maps out the imposition of restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. The sides will now begin to draft the final accord, due by the end of June. That leaves plenty of time for the most hawkish and recalcitrant members of Congress to try to scupper talks. And if the reaction to Thursday’s agreement is any indication, they most certainly will.
Take Mark Kirk, the Republican senator from Illinois and AIPAC stalwart. A leader in efforts to sanction the Iranians—even during the last year of talks, when it would spell the end of negotiations—led the way with the most outlandish statement. Building on his past theme comparing negotiations to the Munich Agreement that ceded the Sudetenland to Hitler, but didn’t satisfy the Nazi appetite for conquest, Kirk lashed out. “Neville Chamberlain got a lot of more out of Hitler than Wendy Sherman”—the State Department number three—“got out of Iran,” he said.
That talking point belies what proponents of an Iran nuke deal have been saying for years: that those opposing a compromise want war. The stale neoconservatism that dominates Kirk’s thinking—and fear-mongering—doesn’t dictate that Chamberlain should’ve gotten a better deal in Munich, but that Munich should never have happened and Europe should have gone to war against Hitler earlier.
Meanwhile, the Arkansas GOP freshman Senator Tom Cotton—who led a, shall we say, unorthodox effort last month to kill the talks by appealing directly to his hardline counterparts in Iran—came out with a point blank denial of reality: “There is no nuclear deal or framework with Iran,” he said in a statement. “Contrary to President Obama’s insistence, the former deputy director of the UN’s nuclear watchdog has said terms such as these will allow Iran to achieve nuclear breakout in just a few months, if not weeks.”
Except that Cotton got that wrong. The UN nuclear official he referred to is Olli Heinonen, now with Harvard. Heinonen affirmed in the Washington Post yesterday that the terms of the deal, leaving Iran with 5000 centrifuges, would yield a breakout time—the period needed for Iran to “dash” to enough fissile material for a bomb, if a deal collapsed—of a year, not months or weeks. And a year-long breakout time has long been the goal of talks, a key aim by which a variety of nuclear experts have said a deal should be measured. A well-established skeptic of the talks, Heinonen seemed “impressed” with the framework, according to The New York Times, whom he told the agreement “appears to be a fairly comprehensive deal with most important parameters.”