New Pressure to Stop Iran Nuke Accord

The economic pain, being inflicted on Iran and Russia by the Saudi-induced oil-price drop, has fueled a new surge in Official Washington’s “tough-guy-ism” and thus may hurt chances for successful negotiations, especially an agreement to constrain Iran’s nuclear program, as Gareth Porter reports.

By Gareth Porter

Everyone following the negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program and the lifting of economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic agrees that the Obama administration would like to have an agreement with Iran. It would be in line with the real interests of the United States to be able to cooperate openly with Iran against the common enemy of Sunni terrorists of the Islamic State (also called ISIS or ISIL). And it would be the one major accomplishment in foreign affairs that Obama could cite in his two terms in office.

But the evidence suggests that the administration won’t make the compromises with Iran necessary to get a comprehensive agreement. On one hand, the political and legal system of the United States has been so thoroughly reshaped over more than two decades by Israeli interests that the hoops Obama would have to jump through to lift sanctions against Iran would be far more politically demanding than what he had to do to lift sanctions against Cuba.

President Barack Obama talks with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran during a phone call in the Oval Office, Sept. 27, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

At a moment of greater hope for a U.S.-Iranian detente, President Barack Obama talked with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran during a phone call in the Oval Office, Sept. 27, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

And on the other hand, despite its differences with Benjamin Netanyahu over the negotiations, the administration actually believes in the false narrative of covert Iranian nuclear weapons program and “nuclear deception” that Israel has long promoted. As the lead negotiator for the United States with Iran, Wendy Sherman (the protégé of the hardline anti-Iran and pro-Israeli Secretary of State Warren Christopher and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s choice to be Undersecretary of State) told a Congressional committee in October 2013, she didn’t trust Iran, because, “we know deception is part of the DNA.”

But even more important, the evidence indicates that the administration feels that it has no incentives to reach an agreement with Iran, because it is getting most of what it wants already under the status quo.

Sometimes it is what is not asserted more than what is said that provides a crucial insight into official thinking. Secretary of State John Kerry said in explaining the extension of the negotiations, “We would be fools to walk away from a situation where the breakout time has already expanded rather than narrowed, and where the world is safer because this program.”

He was referring, of course, to the Joint Program of Action signed by the P5+1 and Iran in November 2013, which was supposed to provide a temporary bridge to the comprehensive agreement to follow.

In a sense, Kerry was merely stating the obvious. He did not add, however, that without achieving a comprehensive agreement, the temporary gains would all be lost. That omission raised the obvious question whether the administration had begun to hope that it could use the JPOA as a device to keep the negotiations going until Iran finally had to go along with U.S. terms.

The answer appears to be that the administration assumes that Iran will ultimately be forced to make the additional concessions that Washington has been demanding or that the talks will continue for another two years.

Politico’s report on the decision to extend the talks elaborated on the administration’s negotiating calculus. Administration officials, it said, “strongly dispute the idea that Kerry is wasting his time or that the extension amounts to a disappointment.” The reason, they explained, was that Iran’s nuclear program “is frozen in place” and “its growth capped by a November 2013 agreement that provided limited relief from international sanctions.”

The officials further argued that time was on the side of the US negotiators “because continued economic sanctions are grinding away at Iran’s economy.”

The strategy suggested by that outline was clearly one of playing out the negotiations for as long as possible in the belief that Iran would ultimately be forced to accept the U.S. demands on enrichment and abandon its own demands on the lifting of sanctions.

A similar strategy was suggested in a column the following day by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, well-known for reflecting the thinking high-ranking national security officials to whom he has long had unparalleled access. Mirroring the view of the unnamed administration officials quoted by Politico, Ignatius said the economic pressure on Iran “seems to be working in the West’s favor,” even though Iranian negotiators did not yet have the freedom to accept U.S. terms.

He went further, however, likening the situation in the talks with Iran to a labor negotiation in which both labor and management find the option of breaking off the talks too costly, so they continue the negotiations “without a contract.” Each side, Ignatius wrote, “for different reasons, seems to agree that for now, ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’,” as long as they “keep talking.”

Kerry made a special point in his press availability of the fact that the United States was holding on to its ultimate card the entire sanctions regime until Iran agreed to U.S. terms. “We will remove sanctions as the agreement is reached,” he said. Kerry was thus emphasizing what the U.S. views as the central fact of the negotiations: The United States can hold on to the gains from the JPOA while at the same time maintaining its bargaining leverage over Iran.

That posture depends on the perception that Iran cannot afford to walk away from the negotiating table. Six weeks before the Nov. 24 cut-off date, Robert Einhorn, who had been the Obama administration State Department’s non-proliferation official until January 2013 and who had detailed the administration’s thinking about the key negotiating issues earlier in 2014, observed that the rollover strategy was available as an alternative to reaching agreement, because Iran would go along with it.

“The option of simply throwing in the towel and calling it quits is not something that appeals to any of the parties,” Einhorn told the Los Angeles Times.

And even as early as December 2013, Gary Samore, who had been Obama’s primary adviser on the Iran nuclear issue until he left the administration in January 2013, predicted at the Manama, Bahrain “regional security summit” that the most likely outcome of another six months of negotiations would not be an actual comprehensive agreement but rather another “interim agreement.” Even more significantly, Samore suggested, that what he called a “process of rolling interim agreements” could last through the remainder of Obama’s term.

Samore is both Executive Director for Research at Harvard’s Belfer Center on Science and International Affairs and President of the organization United Against Nuclear Iran, which takes positions on the Iran nuclear issue that reflect Israeli interests. So it is revealing that Samore was openly promoting an extension of the talks in October 2014, telling the New York Times, “[W]e would favor an extension because it keeps the nuclear program frozen.”

The remarks by Samore and Einhorn strongly suggest that the Obama administration has a strong incentive to maintain its hard line demand for a major reduction in Iran’s enrichment capabilities a demand to which Iran is unlikely to accede. And that was before the collapse of oil prices, putting even more pressure on the Iranian economy, which makes the administration even more confident about it diplomatic posture.

It is very difficult to imagine the administration rethinking its hard line unless and until Iran walks away from the negotiations at the end of the current extension and threatens to resume the development of its enrichment capabilities that it chose to freeze as a confidence-building measure.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and historian writing on U.S. national security policy.  His latest book, Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare, was published in February 2014. [This article originally appeared at Middle East Eye.]

8 comments for “New Pressure to Stop Iran Nuke Accord

  1. fosforos
    December 28, 2014 at 14:47

    The two sides are equally irrational. The Persians really want peaceful nuclear power, which is an economic absurdity–draining huge resources that should be devoted to the development of renewable energy. The Israelo/American camp is worried, with equal absurdity, about a nonexistent Iranian nuclear bomb program. A rational Iranian government would cut the Gordian knot by unilaterally terminating its whole nuclear energy program (except for the virtually complete Bushehr plant) and use the UN Security Council (where it would have the backing of at least five of the “5+1”) or, in case of an idiotic US veto, of the General Assembly under the “Uniting For Peace” provision, to put an end to all sanctions.

    • Peter Loeb
      December 29, 2014 at 06:41

      To “fosforos”:

      You suggestion that “a rational Iranian goverment would cut the Gordian knot
      by unilaterally terminating its whole nuclear program…”

      This is of course ridiculous unless you couple it with “Israel should unilaterally
      terminate its whole nuclear program”.
      UNILATERALLY!! And sign the PRN and
      be bound by its treaties and international
      obligations..
      As we have seen, Israel and the US
      refuse to do this.(In disarmament votes
      recently in the UN General Assembly—–
      The votes were overwhelming in support of these proposals).

      I suppose Israel would claim “anti-senitism” and that these were an INTERNAL PROBLEMS for Israel alone to decide.

      It should also be an internal problem for Iran as are any agreements (Shanghai
      Cooperative Organization or “SCO” and
      other treaties. They require no international input if Israel’s practice to
      exclude international scrutiny has shown
      for many decades (in disarmament, war
      crimes, crimes against humanity etc.).

      Evidently Israel signed agreements, treaties with the UN which it never thought might also apply to Israel.

      —-Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

  2. F. G. Sanford
    December 27, 2014 at 01:38

    “The interview” is a visual repackaging of U.S. foreign policy as a slapstick, but not altogether unrealistic, version of its real diplomatic modus operandi. Americans are proud of it. The script writers for the real story occupy positions at the CFR, The Trilateral Commission, Brookings, Hoover, Heritage, Hudson, FPI and a host of other “creative community” organizations, most of whom have members with financial, ideological and political affinities with Israel. The “enforcement arm” of these organizations domestically are various lobby groups. Overseas they are comprised of the U.S. mercenary military forces, corrupt vassal dictatorships and rebel terrorists rebranded as “opposition forces” and “freedom fighters”. I’m waiting for some other country to do a comedy about Americans and Israelis with the same level of sophistication portrayed in “The Interview”. It would start out with a phone call from Bibi to Barack, lamenting that the Palestinians are staging another “Negro uprising”, which could escalate to nuclear warfare with the Iranians. The Iranians, of course, are “known Negro sympathizers”. There would, of course, be plenty of spoofs involving Muslims singing spirituals, break dancing, and eating soul food. Barack, oblivious to the comedic contradiction, would commiserate sympathetically with Bibi, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Mel Brooks. He keeps the secret Israeli nuclear launch codes in a Mezuzah hidden – where else – in a safe place. Constant alert status is playing havoc with his hemorrhoids.

    What Americans fail to realize is that the reality is just as absurd. Four billion inhabitants of this planet are watching this comedy orchestrated by seven million inhabitants of a country they perceive to have no moral authority. Delusional think-tankers are advised by and committed to academic charlatans who produce esoteric rationalizations which justify morally degenerate, ruthless and unforgivable humanitarian catastrophes in the name of – what else – “humanitarian intervention”. This won’t be tolerated forever. The rational, and perhaps most likely, outcome is the assumption of Iran by Russia and China as a de facto protectorate. Bibi’s “Negroes” won’t fare any better, but the rest of us will be a lot safer. Unless Bibi decides to take the Mezuzah option.

  3. Zachary Smith
    December 26, 2014 at 20:04

    It is very difficult to imagine the administration rethinking its hard line unless and until Iran walks away from the negotiations at the end of the current extension and threatens to resume the development of its enrichment capabilities that it chose to freeze as a confidence-building measure.

    It seems to me that there is another option for Iran if they “walk away” from the stall tactics of the BHO administration. As the author points out, the Israeli-owned Congress is unlikely to do anything about the sanctions, and Obama can’t do much by himself – even in the unlikely event he wanted to do so.

    Iran might strike a very strong new mutual defense treaty with Russia, China, or both. That nation claims it isn’t seeking nuclear weapons, and a defense umbrella from the two major powers would guarantee it doesn’t need such weapons.

    A recent little story on google news told of Iran asking yet again for the S-300 air defense system it bought and paid for. Shipping that older system would be a new way for Russia to poke a stick in the eye of the West. And why not? China is taking delivery of the S-400 even as Russia prepares to begin installing the S-500 in the homeland.

    Another stunning move would be if North Korea was taken under the wing of the Dragon and the Bear. If they managed to talk NK out of their nukes that would be a diplomatic coup of the first order.

    • peter Loeb
      December 27, 2014 at 06:51

      Thanks to both G. Porter and Z. Smith.

      I always prefer to use the term “SO-CALLED NEGOTIATION”. The US and West assume that they can rule the world by US sanctions alone.(hegemony). As I have written previously here, I see no logic to any pressure or “so-called negotiation” painting a picture for world consumption of Iran as a super nuclear threat when in addition to being false completely disregards the fact that it is Israel (with US support) which is the primary nuclear threat in the Middle
      East. And as we have recently seen the US and Israel strongly oppose any intern-
      national scrutiny (see recent votes on
      disarmament in the UN General Assembly.)

      Why is Israel immune to international
      scrutiny and international (binding) sanctions with teeth should remedy for
      Israel’s dismantling of nuclear sites as well as of sites for the manufacture of WMD’s, drones etc not be forthcoming?

      Why does the US and its legislative branches permit Israel’s priorities to decide US foreign policies?

      I am, of course, unable to speak for Iran but the gravitation towards the far East
      and the SCO nations seems logical.

      —-Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

    • dahoit
      December 27, 2014 at 13:58

      The Zionists control the narrative(MSM),and Congress,via citizens united etc.That is why your true facts are never or hardly ever enunciated to the American mushroom,kept in the dark.It’s also a Western phenomenon,almost as if by order.(plan)

    • peter Loeb
      December 27, 2014 at 06:51

      Thanks to both G. Porter and Z. Smith.

      I always prefer to use the term “SO-CALLED NEGOTIATION”. The US and West assume that they can rule the world by US sanctions alone.(hegemony). As I have written previously here, I see no logic to any pressure or “so-called negotiation” painting a picture for world consumption of Iran as a super nuclear threat when in addition to being false completely disregards the fact that it is Israel (with US support) which is the primary nuclear threat in the Middle
      East. And as we have recently seen the US and Israel strongly oppose any intern-
      national scrutiny (see recent votes on
      disarmament in the UN General Assembly.)

      Why is Israel immune to international
      scrutiny and international (binding) sanctions with teeth should remedy for
      Israel’s dismantling of nuclear sites as well as of sites for the manufacture of WMD’s, drones etc not be forthcoming?

      Why does the US and its legislative branches permit Israel’s priorities to decide US foreign policies?

      I am, of course, unable to speak for Iran but the gravitation towards the far East
      and the SCO nations seems logical.

      —-Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

    • peter Loeb
      December 27, 2014 at 06:51

      Thanks to both G. Porter and Z. Smith.

      I always prefer to use the term “SO-CALLED NEGOTIATION”. The US and West assume that they can rule the world by US sanctions alone.(hegemony). As I have written previously here, I see no logic to any pressure or “so-called negotiation” painting a picture for world consumption of Iran as a super nuclear threat when in addition to being false completely disregards the fact that it is Israel (with US support) which is the primary nuclear threat in the Middle
      East. And as we have recently seen the US and Israel strongly oppose any intern-
      national scrutiny (see recent votes on
      disarmament in the UN General Assembly.)

      Why is Israel immune to international
      scrutiny and international (binding) sanctions with teeth should remedy for
      Israel’s dismantling of nuclear sites as well as of sites for the manufacture of WMD’s, drones etc not be forthcoming?

      Why does the US and its legislative branches permit Israel’s priorities to decide US foreign policies?

      I am, of course, unable to speak for Iran but the gravitation towards the far East
      and the SCO nations seems logical.

      —-Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

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