Most official responses to these discussions were predictable, with persons on both sides insisting that progress is being made toward the framework agreement that is due on March 24. But at least one US official told reporters that it looked doubtful that negotiators would be able to overcome persistent differences in time. In any event, with that deadline now one week away, it is expected that the framework discussions will not be resolved until the last possible moment, if at all.
As reported by Reuters on Monday, the outstanding issues include Iran’s insistence upon the continuation of advanced centrifuge research, its expectation that economic sanctions will be lifted immediately and all at once, as opposed to being phased in as Iran demonstrates compliance with the deal, and its ongoing failure to fully cooperate with an International Atomic Energy Agency probe into the past military dimensions of the Iranian nuclear program.
It seems clear at this point that the resolution of these issues lies primarily in Tehran’s willingness to compromise. Reuters also quotes a senior US official as saying, “Iran still has to make some very tough and necessary choices to address the significant concerns that remain about its nuclear program.”
But at the same time, critics of the talks note that it is unclear to what extent Western powers will insist upon Iran making all of those tough choices, or to what extent they will pressure it to do so. This was the central message behind a US News and World editorial published on Monday. The article details the intelligence on Iran’s past nuclear work and the reports of its past non-cooperation with IAEA investigations, and uses this evidence to argue that “everyone knows” Iran has the capability to develop a nuclear weapon and has taken steps toward doing so.
The article goes on from there to chastise Western negotiators and policymakers for failing to require that Iran so much as acknowledge its past nuclear work as a prerequisite for a deal aimed at constraining such work in the future. US News suggests that this evasion of the central suspicion driving the talks “doesn’t make sense” and should be changed as a first step going forward from this point.
This same soft approach on the part of Western powers has arguably helped Iran to continue advancing a narrative to presents it as an innocent victim in the midst of these talks. That is, by deemphasizing Iran’s past missteps, the West may be creating an opening for Tehran to instead emphasize issues that may cast the US in a bad light.
Chief among these in recent days has been the letter sent last week Monday by 47 Republican members of the US Senate to Iranian officials, in which the Republicans suggested that they would invalidate a deal reached between Tehran and President Barack Obama. And according to San Francisco Gate, Iranian officials raised this topic in talks on both Sunday and Monday. Previously, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei took advantage of the letter to declare that it was indicative of a lack of trustworthiness on the part of the United States.
Such assertions could have a significant impact on coming developments, especially in the event that negotiations break down without an accord. A report by CNN suggests that such a breakdown would precipitate a vigorous “blame game,” in which the US and Iran both try to convince the world community that the other side’s aggressiveness was responsible for the failure of diplomacy.
The same report quotes a security analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace as saying that any attempt by the US Congress to impose sanctions upon Iran unilaterally or to otherwise subvert President Obama’s authority to negotiate would be a “propaganda victory” for the Islamic Republic of Iran.
CNN also suggests that the failure of talks would lead both sides to dig in deeper in their respective positions, an outcome that certainly makes a negotiated solution more difficult but that might also be more palatable to certain parties than the deal that appears to be taking shape now. Some of these critics of the Obama administration’s negotiating strategy may be relieved to know that the administration is reportedly still predicting only a 50-50 chance of securing an agreement after Monday’s talks.
As such, even though last week’s letter has been credited by some with giving a propaganda victory to the Iranians, some of the signatories continue to defend it as a much-needed act of opposition to a deal that would leave Iran as a threshold nuclear state. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, for instance, described the blowback against the letter as a “manufactured controversy,” according to another CNN report.
McConnell accused the president of being committed to keeping Congress out of the negotiations altogether, and he portrayed the letter as making it clear that the senators would not accept such a situation. And even though congressional Democrats expressed considerable outrage at the sending of the letter, Hot Air reported on Monday that this had not diminished their support for bipartisan legislation that would necessitate congressional oversight over a final deal or impose extensive new sanctions on Iran in the event that the talks failed or Iran violated its agreements.
For its part, Iran is hedging against this at the same time that it is pushing for the supposed propaganda victory. Agence France-Presse reported on Monday that the Iranian parliament had declared that they would not take any measures against a completed agreement as long as the supreme leader approved of it.
But perhaps unintentionally, this announcement served to further illustrate the differences between the governments of Iran and the US. That is, while the branches of the latter can operate independently, the Iranian supreme leader is the ultimate authority in all matters in the Islamic Republic and does not need to compete with or deliberately evade his officials.
But the way Breitbart characterizes the situation, the US president has had to “subvert the constitution” to keep Congress out of the current negotiations, and is currently pursuing a strategy of partnering with the United Nations to remove international sanctions, thus simply weakening those imposed by Congress and making it unnecessary, at least in the short term, for him to rely on Congress to remove those sanctions he cannot legally remove on his own.