Steinmeier’s comments reiterate concerns that have been expressed by the Obama administration that any breakdown in nuclear talks could reflect badly on the United States. This concern was the principal justification for the administration’s opposition to planned congressional legislation that would have outlined harsh economic sanctions to be imposed on Iran in the event of such failure.
Obama’s narrative on this point proved successful, as several key Democrats agreed in February to withhold their support for that legislation until the current talks reach their deadline. But most Republicans and some Democrats remain fearful that Obama’s obsession with preserving the talks is also leading the administration to maintain an excessively soft position in the negotiations.
It is perhaps surprising, therefore, that Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told Iran’s Mehr News Agency on Thursday that every time the nuclear talks seem to be approaching progress, the US becomes “harsher, tougher, and coarser.”
These remarks conspicuously avoided making any distinction between the different branches of the US government, which clearly have different approaches to Iran strategy. Unless the US Congress has severely misconstrued the Obama administration’s behavior at the nuclear negotiating table, Khamenei’s comments were presumably prompted by the resistance to Obama’s strategies that has been expressed by Congress in many forms over the past several weeks.
Although Monday’s letter was presumably motivated by a desire to discourage Iran from taking advantage of what many congressmen believe will be a bad deal for the United States, the response from the supreme leader suggests that those same congressmen, some of whom have distanced themselves from their initial decision to sign the document, may not have considered how such a gesture would justify the Obama administration’s concerns and provide fodder for Iran’s well-worn narrative of victimization.
Indeed, Khamenei used the Republican letter as an opportunity to launch general criticisms against the US government as a whole. According to RT.com, he asserted that the US has a legacy of “backstabbing” and that the letter was indicative of “the nature of their tricks and deceptions.”
The Obama administration and Congress may disagree about how to confront this victimization narrative, but both can be expected to take it into account not only in light of the reaction to Monday’s letter by also in light of the broader efforts by Iranian officials to advance that narrative and use it to portray Iran an innocent party in nuclear talks.
This narrative is something that The Tower described on Wednesday as a “nuclear fairy tale,” and one that it has told repeatedly in an attempt to push for the complete and immediate removal of economic sanctions without the need for Iran to seriously restrict its nuclear enrichment or even verify that that enrichment is being used solely for peaceful purposes.
The Tower explains that the “Iranian tactic of dismissing accusations about its illicit nuclear activities with falsehoods has been going on for some time,” and has been complemented by the tactic of using other falsehoods and distortions to argue that the West is placing restrictions on Iran for no good reason.
A prime example of this latter strategy was on display in an article in The Bulletin on Thursday, which discussed Iran’s chronic non-cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency’s probe into the possible military dimensions of the Iranian nuclear program.
The Bulletin indicates that the IAEA and the rest of the international community have a number of good reasons for believing that Iran’s nuclear work has had substantial military actions. Among these reasons are documents obtained by multiple Western intelligence agencies outlining some of the research that has been undertaken in previous years. But these documents have been implausibly dismissed by Tehran as forgeries by unreasonably aggressive Western governments.
Iran’s consequent unwillingness to answer inspector’s questions about its military nuclear program has been described by former IAEA chief inspector Ollie Heinonen as “Iran’s most serious verification shortcoming.” And even though that shortcoming is persistent and has brought previous nuclear inquiries and negotiations to a dead end, The Bulletin reports that it is still unclear whether or not the US and the other member states of the P5+1 will demand that Iran come clean on these issues before sanctions are lifted as part of a nuclear agreement.
This uncertainty underlines the Republican Party’s anxieties about the outcome of the negotiations, as well as its likely motivations for such measures as this week’s letter. Indeed, CNN quoted Senator Rand Paul on Thursday as saying that his decision to sign the document was aimed not at reaching the Iranian government directly but at reaching a presidential administration that will not listen to congressional concerns about the direction that relations with Iran are going.