Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) called on Congress to pass legislation that would trigger sanctions against Iran just as the United States and its European partners are consumed in negotiations over the country’s nuclear program.
During a wide-ranging speech on foreign policy matters at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs on Wednesday, Bush criticized the Obama administration for staking out a negotiating position that, he claimed, would endanger Israel and the world by merely managing the Iranian nuclear program rather than eliminating it altogether.
“The administration no longer seeks to prevent nuclear enrichment, now it seeks merely to regulate it,” Jeb Bush said. “Prevention of nuclear weapons in Iran was once a unifying issue in American foreign policy. Leaders of both parties agreed to it.”
Congress, he said, “should pass bills to reinstate sanctions in advance if negotiations fail and require approval if an agreement is reached.”
Media reports indicate that the Obama administration and its negotiating partners — Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany — would in fact permit Iran to retain its nuclear infrastructure but significantly delay its ability to build a nuclear weapon by more than a year. The world powers are also pushing for a rigorous inspection regime to ensure Iran is not developing covert nuclear facilities and would in turn provide Iran with sanction relief and greater integration into the world community.
But “managing” Iran’s nuclear capabilities, as Bush puts it, isn’t a position that originated in the Obama administration.
As the New York Times points out, George W. Bush officials eventually conceded during his presidency that “there was no way to reach a deal without Iran retaining at least a face-saving amount of enrichment capability.”
The paper reported in July of 2008 that the administration’s final diplomatic effort before leaving office urged Iran to accept a formula known as “freeze-for-freeze” under which “Iran would not add to its nuclear program.” Only then would the United States not seek “new international sanctions for six weeks to pave the way for formal negotiations.”
The wider strategy, as Stephen Hadley — President George W. Bush’s national security adviser and foreign policy adviser to Jeb Bush’s informal campaign — explained was to “try to push back the time when the Iranian regime would have a clear path to a nuclear weapon” and “bring forward the time when public pressure would either cause the regime to change its nuclear policy (and suspend enrichment), or transform it into a government more likely to make the strategic choice to deal with the international community.”
Indeed, the Obama administration kicked off this latest round of negotiations only after reaching an interim agreement with Iran that has frozen Iran’s nuclear program and rolled back its stockpiles of enriched uranium — a condition similar to George W. Bush’s “freeze-for-freeze” requirement.
In Nov. 2014, the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed that Iran was complying with the terms of the interim November 2013 agreement, meaning that “All of the enrichment related activities at Iran’s declared facilities are under Agency safeguards, and all of the nuclear material, installed cascades, and feed and withdrawal stations at those facilities are subject to Agency containment and surveillance.”
Iran can continue to enrich uranium, but only to the level of 5 percent of U-235, far below the 90 percent level needed for a weapon. The IAEA also found that Iran has not made “any further advances” at two enrichment facilities and an unfinished heavy water reactor.
Iran and its negotiating partners must agree to broad principles on limiting Iran’s nuclear capabilities no later than March 24 and reach an agreement on the technical aspects of the deal by June 30th. The administration and the nations involved in the talks caution that the threat of additional restrictions, as Jeb Bush suggests, would provide Iran’s hardliners with an excuse to end the negotiations and unravel international cooperation on the issue.
Though many Republicans agree with Jeb Bush’s call to pass a new sanctions bill, Democrats who had broken with Obama on the issue in the past recently backed off, promising to wait “until after March 24, and only if there is no political framework agreement” on supporting additional sanctions.