Further Extension of Nuclear Talks Provides Ammunition to Critics

The continuation of talks past Thursday will change the calculus involved in selling any final agreement to the US Congress, and by extension to the American people. Under the terms of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act signed into law in April, Congress would have had 30 days to review the provisions of the deal and vote to either approve or disapprove of it if it was submitted prior to July 9. This provided negotiators with more than a week-long buffer period before the June 30 deadline, itself the second formal extension of the final deadline.

But now that the deal will presumably be submitted to the US Congress after July 9, lawmakers will have 60 days to consider the document before making a determination about its acceptability and impact on US interests. Congress in general has been skeptical of the Obama administration’s approach to the issue throughout the negotiating period. This is especially true of the Republican Party, and many questions about the finalization of a nuclear agreement focus on whether Republicans will be able to generate enough bipartisan opposition to the deal in order to overturn it.

An article in The Atlantic on Tuesday suggested that they will certainly attempt to obstruct the approval of a deal that has already been widely criticized for including concessions to the Iranian government and the abandonment of initial US negotiating positions. The Los Angeles Times points out that three major demands – that Iran halt all nuclear fuel production, dismantle its nuclear infrastructure, and limit its ballistic missile stockpile and development – have all disappeared over the course of the negotiating process.

Meanwhile, Tehran has been accused of amplifying its own demands over the same period, with the latest example being its insistence that the West remove not only nuclear-related sanctions upon the conclusion of a deal, but also embargos on the sale and transfer of conventional weapons to the Iranian regime.

Reuters reports that a senior US official reiterated on Tuesday that the relevant restrictions will remain in place and are not being reconsidered within the framework of the nuclear talks. But The Guardian claims that the US and the three EU nations that are members of the P5+1 group do not enjoy support from the other members in rejecting this demand. There has reportedly been significant dissent from Russia, a major Iran trading partner and a partner in various instances of sanctions defiance. This, according to The Guardian is part of the reason for the delay that now threatens to push the talks back past the July 9 benchmark.

Despite the additional time that this will provide to Republicans and their Democratic allies in opposition to the deal, The Atlantic notes that there is serious doubt about whether their desire to stonewall approval can actually be successful. What’s more, recent commentary by Iran expert Michael Ledeen imagines a scenario in which it will be quite impossible for the US Congress to stop the deal.

According to the Jewish Press, Ledeen foresees the two sides settling for a “no deal deal,” effectively extending the Joint Plan of Action through the end of the year, providing Iran with continued sanctions relief, and claiming publicly claiming to be working on the resolution of technical details while already committed to a basic understanding.

But Ledeen bases this scenario on evidence that Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has expressly decided that Iran should draw out the negotiations and avoid signing a deal. According to this narrative, Khamenei believes that Tehran has already gotten what it wanted out of the talks, and now recognizes that the Obama administration is unwilling to walk away even if its key demands are not met.

US Secretary of State John Kerry claimed otherwise over the weekend, asserting that the Iranians would need to make tough decisions in the coming days in order to prevent the talks from failing. But critics of the Obama administration question the sincerity of such remarks on the basis of the apparent concessions that have been offered to keep the talks alive to this point. The LA Times points out that even some high-ranking administration officials have stated that the emerging deal could be much stronger, although they are withholding judgment until the final document is prepared.

Others, however, are pushing for the administration to either stand its ground on key positions or walk away. An editorial published Tuesday in The Blaze put a creative spin on these policy recommendations, suggesting that the US reevaluate the talks and start over from scratch by demanding just one condition: Free and fair elections in Iran.

The op-ed indicates that this may be the best chance that diplomats have of making future restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program enforceable. In fact, this conclusion is reinforced by Ledeen’s claims about Khamenei’s explicitly double-dealing policy. Western critics of the talks have largely taken it for granted that the Iranian regime will attempt to cheat on restrictions that are imposed upon it by successful negotiations. And The Blaze, among other sources, has given voice to the idea that this can only be effectively avoided via a change of government in Iran.