WaPo Editorial: Administration’s Reaction to Violations Reveals Reluctance to Confront Iran

The administration’s response to a report of an Iranian violation of the Joint Plan of Actions (JPOA) suggests that the White House believes “overlooking Iranian cheating is easier than confronting it,” an unsigned staff editorial in The Washington Post asserted Tuesday. The editorial raised questions about the emerging nuclear deal with Iran, which it called “an unsatisfying and risky compromise,” and notes that “[t]he United States and its allies will have to be aggressive” in confronting Iranian attempts to cheat.

That’s why a recent controversy over Iran’s compliance with the interim accord now governing its nuclear work is troubling. The deal allowed Iran to continue enriching uranium, but required that amounts over a specified ceiling be converted into an oxide powder that cannot easily be further enriched. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran met the requirement for the total size of its stockpile on June 30, but it did so by converting some of its enriched uranium into a different oxide form, apparently because of problems with a plant set up to carry out the powder conversion.

Rather than publicly report this departure from the accord, the Obama administration chose to quietly accept it. When a respected independent think tank, the Institute for Science and International Security, began pointing out the problem, the administration’s response was to rush to Iran’s defense — and heatedly attack the institute as well as a report in the New York Times.

The editorial noted that the episode reflected the administration’s apparent preference to “overlooking Iranian cheating is easier than confronting it.”

This weakness is matched by a White House proclivity to respond to questions about Iran’s performance by attacking those who raise them. Mr. Albright, a physicist with a long record of providing non-partisan expert analysis of nuclear proliferation issues, said on the Foreign Policy Web site that he had been unfairly labeled as an adversary of the Iran deal and that campaign-style “war room” tactics are being used by the White House to fend off legitimate questions.

The editorial concluded that “[i]f the deal is to serve U.S. interests, the Obama administration and its successors will have to respond to [instances of Iranian non-compliance] more firmly and less defensively.”

Although The Washington Post originally supported the administration’s diplomacy with Iran, since late last year it has show increasing skepticism about the emerging deal. In October, the Post’s editors urged the administration to “hold the line on Iran,” and observed that in contrast to the administration’s efforts to accommodate Iran, Iran had not budged at all in its positions.

This year an editorial noted that the emerging deal would reward Iran for its past violations of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, and another editorial observed that the administration had retreated from a number of its earlier negotiating positions.

An May editorial cautioned that the trial of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, who was arrested by Iran last July, was an attempt to bully the United States into accepting a weak nuclear deal. An earlier editorial asked how a government that couldn’t or wouldn’t protect Rezaian could be trusted to observe commitments it would make as part of the emerging nuclear deal.

The Washington Post twice endorsed Barack Obama for president.

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