A spokesperson for Chinese negotiators – one of the two parties that support Iran’s overall positions in the talks – declared that all of the powers had agreed on an overall framework of a deal, and that this showed progress and commitment to finalizing the agreement. The Wall Street Journaldescribed the resulting working document as the “first concrete advance in months,” but admitted that it was still unclear whether recent developments would lead to a successful resolution.
There is likely more cause to doubt that outcome than to anticipate it. Reuters reports that Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded to the conclusion of talks by reiterating that Iran will not negotiate in good faith on some of the most fundamental topics, including Iran’s enrichment capability and stockpile of centrifuges. The Islamic Republic is still committed to retaining all of its currently operational centrifuges and expanding the stockpile by roughly five times. The West wants Iran to cut its supply from about 10,000 operational centrifuges to no more than a few thousand, which would be enough to supply a nation’s energy needs for years or decades, but few enough to limit Iran’s nuclear weapon breakout period.
Nevertheless, Zarif maintains the public position that it is the West that is being unreasonable by asking for any reduction whatsoever in Iran’s enrichment capabilities. He urged negotiators on the other side of the table to “abandon excessive demands which will not be accepted by Iran.” The refusal to accept these demands has been well established, as several officials including the Iranian president have expressed their fealty to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on point of his red lines that bar negotiators from compromising on enrichment capabilities, ballistic missile supplies, and more.
The Washington Post on Thursday conveyed to its readers some of the sentiments that were expressed by four American Middle Eastern policy experts who were assembled by the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs to talk about the nuclear deal. Opinion columnist Jennifer Rubin succinctly and colorfully summarizes their mutual positions as being that “Obama is blowing it” in Iran. Rubin further explained that the discussion indicated that the US is at risk of being too eager for a deal and giving up too much to get it, that it is making its allies nervous while failing to use leverage that it possesses, and that it’s making mistakes by keeping Iran’s human rights abuses out of the conversation and assuming that complete transparency on the nuclear program is obtainable.
No doubt some of these observations are behind the persistent congressional nervousness over the Obama administration’s handling of Iranian negotiations. The Tower reports that this week, congressmen once again delivered a letter to President Obama insisting that he seek congressional approval before signing any final deal. Several congressmen have insisted on this point before, indicating a generally more cautious congressional approach, as well as specific concerns regarding a lack of evidence of Iranian compliance with the interim nuclear accord.
Whatever differences exist between the president and congress on the Iran nuclear issue, though, recent political exchanges show that at the very least there is some limit to how far the executive is willing to go to negotiate. Mohammad Nahavandia, the Chief of Staff to President Hassan Rouhani, recently attempted to link the nuclear issue to the ongoing crisis in Iran, saying that the US should consider hastening negotiations in order to secure cooperation.
In spite of earlier signals that the US would exchange information or otherwise coordinate with Iran on the issue, State Department spokesperson Marie Harf rejected Nahavandian’s suggestions, saying that any discussion about Iraq and Iran will be entirely separate from the nuclear issue. While the Obama administration may not be using all of its leverage in those talks, it is, at least in this instance, refusing to give additional leverage to Iran.