FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

US Slowdown on Iran Talks has Dark Side

President Barack Obama decided last week against achieving a final agreement with Iran before the expiration of the 10 July deadline so as to limit the period of Congressional consideration of the agreement and so neutralise criticism that he and Secretary of State John Kerry were too eager to reach an accord.Obama’s decision marks a new low in his administration’s willingness to stand up to the Israeli lobby-controlled Congressional opposition to the Iran nuclear deal.  That doesn’t mean that the chance for an agreement has necessarily been lost, but it will certainly make it more difficult.

More importantly, it poses a serious question about whether Iran hardliners in the Obama administration, led by National Security Adviser Susan Rice, have undermined Kerry’s position in determining the pace and direction of US negotiating policy in the talks.

The evidence strongly suggests that the White House unexpectedly imposed on the US negotiating team a new strategy in regards to the arms embargo issue.

Along with Middle East Eye, several other newspapers Monday and Tuesday reported that some of the issues that had been considered most contentious had been resolved in the preceding days.

Those issues include the “possible military dimensions,” access for inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the timing and processes for lifting sanctions and verification of Iran’s implementation of its nuclear obligations.  In a briefing for Western journalists in Vienna on Monday, a “senior administration official” said: “We’re certainly making progress; there is no doubt about that.”

The briefing contained no hint that the US was about to make a major push to link the issue of language on the arms embargo issue in a new Security Council resolution to regional politics or slow down the negotiations dramatically so that they would not meet the deadline.

In fact, in response to a question about a video by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif suggesting that the nuclear agreement could lead to addressing “common challenges” in the region, the senior official denied that the negotiations were linked in any way to the Islamic State threat to the Middle East. That line implied that the US delegation had the political space needed to negotiate a formula and resolve the Security Council arms embargo issue.

Of all the remaining issues when the Vienna round began, the arms embargo was certainly the one that should have been the easiest to resolve.  It was obviously an extraneous political issue that had nothing to do with insuring against a nuclear weapons programme in Iran and, as Iranian officials argued in Vienna, it should never have been part of a Security Council resolution on the nuclear issue in the first place.

Furthermore, like the language in past Security Council resolutions on the arms embargo and also forbidding Iran from continuing to work on ballistic missiles, it was based on the fundamentally false premise that the Security Council resolution actually had an actual effect on either Iranian policy.

In fact, Iran has been almost completely self-sufficient in regard to conventional arms for many year, and the Security Resolution had never prevented Iran from providing arms to Hezbollah or Hamas, much less to its Shia allies in Iraq.

The real point of a US policy of reinstating the arms embargo in a new resolution was, in fact, to demonstrate US support for Israel and Saudi Arabia and other Gulf allies who wanted such language and to curry favour with hawkish Senate Democrats who had been exposed to propaganda on the issue from the Israeli lobby.  Those political motives were certainly behind a series of moves on Monday and Tuesday to adopt a tougher US negotiating stance in the talks and to deliberately slow them down so that the 10 July deadline would be missed

At 1pm (5pm GMT) in Washington on Monday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest suggested in a press briefing that the administration could increase its bargaining leverage by continuing the talks indefinitely until it was satisfied with Iran’s concessions.  He cited the fact that the Joint Plan of Action under which Iran had agreed to temporary restraints on enrichment  could be kept in place, implying that the US didn’t really need an agreement any time in the near future.

Earnest claimed the administration had “some bipartisan agreement that this is an available approach that could benefit the United States and our negotiating position in a way that continues to keep the pressure on Iran to reach a final agreement”.

That was a rather heavy-handed way of conveying the administration’s intention to play hard to get in Vienna. The consequences of that strategy were apparent at a Monday night meeting in Vienna of the five permanent members of the Security Council and Iran. The purpose was to discuss the text of the new Security Council resolution – especially on the arms embargo issue.  At that meeting, Russia and China declared flatly that they would not support an effort to reinstitute the arms embargo, according to a European diplomatic source familiar with the meeting.

Nevertheless, the US, Britain and France accused Iran of making trouble in the region through conventional arms transfers, according to an account of the meeting published by the official Iranian news agency IRNA based on a background briefing by Zarif that was not supposed to have been for publication.  Zarif reportedly shot back that he could have taken every one of the countries making the accusation to international court for supplying weapons of mass destruction capabilities to Iraq with which to attack Iran.

EU foreign policy chief Frederica Mogherini told Iran that if it was not prepared to accept the renewal of the embargo, they all might as well “go home,” to which Zarif responded by warning her “never to threaten an Iranian”.  Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov immediately added, “Nor a Russian.”

The outcome of the meeting clearly indicated that the Obama administration policy of pushing a hard line on the arms embargo issue had no chance whatever of being accepted even by the P5+1 (the five permanent Security Council members plus Germany) itself.

When negotiations resumed on Wednesday, it soon became clear to Iranian officials that the Obama administration was deliberately slowing progress in the talks so as to miss the 10 June Congressional deadline, which had previously seemed important to it.

They revealed in briefings for this writer and other journalists that the US was suddenly spending far more time “coordinating” with their P5+1 partners than negotiating with Iran on the remaining issues. Suddenly, all the other members of the six-power group, which had been almost entirely silent during the Vienna round up to that time, were said to have their own “red lines” complicating the negotiations.

That cumbersome process coincided with a new revised package of proposals on the unresolved issues that had been approved by the White House. It was more uncompromising than the previous one that the US delegation had provided, according to Iranian officials who spoke with this writer last week.

They recalled that the same combination of more extreme US proposals and a slow-down in negotiations had occurred in the talks at the same hotel in Vienna in November 2014.

The implications of the deliberate Obama administration decision to postpone any agreement to blunt domestic criticism from the right and, apparently, to try to wrest more diplomatic leverage in doing so, are far-reaching and very serious.

Obama will presumably complete the negotiations soon.  But the slowdown maneuver implies that the administration will present the final agreement as a clear triumph over Iran achieved by its tough negotiating stance – even though that line will be the opposite of the truth.

This article originally appeared in Middle East Eye.

 

More articles by:

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
December 13, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
The  FBI: Another Worry in the National Security State
Rob Urie
Establishment Politics are for the Rich
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: That’s Neoliberalism for You
Paul Street
Midnight Ramble: A Fascist Rally in Hershey, Pennsylvania
Joan Roelofs
The Science of Lethality
Joyce Nelson
Buttigieg and McKinsey
Joseph Natoli
Equally Determined: To Impeach/To Support
Charles Pierson
The National Defense Authorization Act Perpetuates the Destruction of Yemen
REZA FIYOUZAT
An Outrageous Proposal: Peace Boats to Iran
Andrew Levine
A Plague on Both Their Houses, Plus a Dozen Poxes on Trump’s
David Rosen
Mortality Rising: Trump and the Death of the “American Dream”
Lee Hall
Donald Trump Jr., Mongolian Sheep Killer
Dave Lindorff
The Perils of Embedded Journalism: ‘Afghan Papers’ Wouldn’t Be Needed If We Had a Real Independent News Media
Brian Cloughley
Human Rights and Humbug in Washington
Stephen Leas
Hungry for a Livable Planet: Why I Occupied Pelosi’s Office for 13 Days
Saad Hafiz
Pakistan Must Face Its Past
Lawrence Davidson
Deteriorating Climates: Home and Abroad
Cal Winslow
The End of the Era: Nineteen Nineteen
Louis Proyect
If Time Magazine Celebrates Greta Thunberg, Why Should We?
Thomas Drake
Kafka Down Under: the Threat to Whistleblowers and Press Freedom in Australia
Thomas Knapp
JEDI Mind Tricks: Amazon Versus the Pentagon and Trump
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s War on the Poor
Michael Welton
Seeing the World Without Shadows: the Enlightenment Dream
Ron Jacobs
The Wind That Shook the Barley: the Politics of the IRA
Rivera Sun
Beyond Changing Light Bulbs: 21 Ways You Can Stop the Climate Crisis
Binoy Kampmark
The Bloomberg Factor: Authoritarianism, Money and US Presidential Politics
Nick Pemberton
Ideology Shall Have No Resurrection
Rev. Susan K. Williams Smith
What Trump and the GOP Learned From Obama
Ramzy Baroud
‘Elected by Donors’: the University of Cape Town Fails Palestine, Embraces Israel
Cesar Chelala
Unsuccessful U.S. Policy on Cuba Should End
Harry Blain
The Conservatism of Impeachment
Jill Richardson
Standardized Tests are Biased and Unhelpful
Norman Solomon
Will the Democratic Presidential Nomination Be Bought?
Howard Lisnoff
The One Thing That US Leaders Seem to Do Well is Lie
Jeff Cohen
Warren vs. Buttigieg Clash Offers Contrast with Sanders’ Consistency
Mel Gurtov
The Afghanistan Pentagon Papers
Gaither Stewart
Landslide … to Totalitarianism
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
How Blaming Nader in 2000 Paved the Way for Today’s Neo-Fascism
Steve Early
In Re-Run Election: LA Times Journalist Wins Presidency of NewsGuild 
Sarah Anderson
A Holiday Comeback for Toys ‘R’ Us?
Sherry Brennan
Cutting Food Aid Promotes Hunger Not Work
David Swanson
If You’re Not Busy Plotting Nonviolent Revolution for Peace and Climate, You’re Busy Dying
Nicky Reid
Sorry Lefties, Your Impeachment is Bullshit
John Kendall Hawkins
The Terror Report You Weren’t Meant to See
Susan Block
Krampus Trumpus Rumpus
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail