Elliot Abrams is a senior fellow for Middle East Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. This piece is reprinted with permission and can be found on Abrams' blog "Pressure Points" here.
U.S. President Barack Obama has a full court press underway to stop Congress from passing new sanctions legislation that could -- could, not will -- impose sanctions on Iran one year from now if negotiations break down or Iran cheats. The idea seems to be that passage of the bill would signal mistrust of Iran, or would break the spell of sincerity being cast at the negotiating table.
But what is Iran doing while the president woos legislators? Laughing at us all. Yesterday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif -- one of the reputed moderates in the camp of President Hassan Rouhani -- was in Beirut and laid a wreath at the grave of Imad Mughniyeh.
Mughniyeh was the Hezbollah terrorist who had killed more Americans than any other man until the attack on 9/11. Mughniyeh was involved in bombing the Marine barracks in Beirut, the bombings of U.S. embassies, the torture and killing of CIA station chief William Buckley in Beirut, the hijacking of TWA Flight 847 and the murder of Navy diver Robert Stethem, among other acts of terror. He was also indicted in Argentina for the bombing of the Israeli Embassy and Jewish community center in Buenos Aires.
So what does the urbane Zarif do when in Beirut? He lays a wreath at Mughniyeh's grave; Reuters has published the photo.
It is obvious that while we are supposed to freeze any congressional action lest we upset the sensitive Iranians, they plan to mock the president and indeed the United States. We are to walk on eggshells, while they honor a terrorist who murdered hundreds of Americans. (And more: Last week Iran shipped weapons to rebels in Bahrain.) The administration's reaction to all this is to insist with greater and greater heat that Congress must not act, and to cast aspersions on those members who back the legislation.
This dishonors those whose lives were taken by Mughniyeh, but it does more: It suggests to Iran that the administration is now hostage to the nuclear negotiations. For the Obama administration, the talks must succeed and nothing will be permitted to get us off that track. This is dangerous, freeing Iran not only to honor a terrorist who murdered Americans and to give greater backing to terrorism today, but ultimately to cheat on the nuclear deal as well -- under the logical assumption that the Obama administration will not see evidence it does not want to see and that would turn its diplomatic achievement into dust.
But the administration may be sowing the seeds that will kill its own deal down the road, if and when Iranian cheating is discovered. A weak American posture, a suggestion that no Iranian actions will be taken seriously and that the administration is totally committed to keeping this deal under all circumstances, is a formula for trouble down the road. It is exactly contrary to the message that we should be sending Iran today.
From "Pressure Points" by Elliot Abrams. Reprinted with permission from the Council on Foreign Relations.