Obama’s Posturing Risks Iran-Nuke Deal

The Obama administration is risking the success of the Iran nuclear negotiations by playing some political theater to appear tough to its Republican and neocon critics in Official Washington, write Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett.

By Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett

As nuclear talks between the P5+1 and Iran in Vienna extend past yet another (largely U.S.-imposed) deadline, the dysfunctionality of the Obama administration’s approach becomes increasingly apparent.

Since April, when the parties announced a set of “parameters” for a final deal, senior administration officials have staked out public positions on the most important unresolved issues that, frankly, are inconsistent with what was agreed in April.  These include a U.S. demand for open-ended retention of a conventional arms embargo and other aspects of the United Nations Security Council-authorized sanctions regime.

Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in a bilateral discussion in Vienna before Iran-nuclear negotiations on June 30, 2015. (State Department Photo)

Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in a bilateral discussion in Vienna before Iran-nuclear negotiations on June 30, 2015. (State Department Photo)

There has never been any serious prospect that these U.S. positions could actually provide bases for negotiated outcomes. Take, for example, the Obama administration’s demand for open-ended retention of a conventional arms embargo and other aspects of the United Nations Security Council-authorized sanctions regime against Iran. Not only does Tehran object to this demand; Russia and China, like the United States, veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council, do, too.

The Obama administration defined stark stances on the future of UN sanctions and some of the other outstanding issues ostensibly to rebut charges of “weakness” from domestic opponents and to deflect criticism from traditional U.S. allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia, that it is “appeasing” Iran.

But, if Obama and his team ultimately want to conclude a deal, they will, at some point, have to retreat from the diplomatically untenable positions they have so publicly assumed, thereby exposing themselves to even stronger political attacks.

This is the (entirely self-generated) dilemma currently looming over the Obama administration. Going into this week, relative optimism was rising that the Vienna talks might be on the verge of producing a final deal. Officials from participating governments say that compromises have been found over previously disputed aspects of lifting U.S., European, and most UN sanctions against Iran.

U.S. and Iranian negotiators have also been making progress toward resolving differences over the kinds of nuclear research that Iran will conduct while a final agreement is in effect.

Against this backdrop, the most difficult challenges facing the seven delegations in Vienna pertain to the drafting of a prospective UN Security Council resolution that would nullify previous resolutions authorizing international sanctions against Iran and formally start implementation of a final deal. It is in this context that unrealistic U.S. demands to keep in place an open-ended arms embargo against Iran have become the main obstacle blocking conclusion of a comprehensive nuclear agreement.

There was considerable speculation, in Washington as well as in Vienna, that the Obama administration would be eager to finish negotiations before July 9.  (According to recently enacted U.S. law, if the administration had presented the text of a final nuclear agreement to Congress by July 9, Congress would have had 30 days to review it; from July 9 until Sept. 7, the law gives Congress 60 days.)

Such speculation, however, overlooked the White House’s real calculation: that, by modifying U.S. negotiating positions to permit agreement on terms of a new Security Council resolution, thus setting the stage to conclude a final deal this weak, the administration would receive more political criticism than if it appeared to “hang tough” and let July 9 pass.

This calculation explains why, according to officials from participating governments, the U.S position regarding the terms of a new Security Council resolution has, over the last few days, become less conducive to reaching a final agreement. Moreover, the United States appears to be encouraging its British and French partners in the talks to define their own increasingly individuated positions on the issue.

As a result, P5+1 delegations are now spending more time in Vienna negotiating among themselves than with their Iranian counterparts. When they do interact with Iranian representatives, their dialogue becomes, in effect, ever less a multilateral negotiation between the P5+1 and Iran and ever more a series of bilateral negotiations between Iran and various P5+1 states.

The Obama administration appears to calculate that it can posture in this way for some as yet unspecified period time, after which it can then quietly modify U.S. negotiating positions and reach a final agreement, claiming all the while that, by “hanging tough,” Washington persuaded Tehran and Moscow to take more “reasonable” stances. This will be political theater with little connection to diplomatic reality. But it is the narrative that Obama and company want to craft.

No doubt, Obama and his White House advisers think they are handling difficult domestic political dynamics with admirable adroitness. But, in diplomatic terms, their approach assumes that other key players, including Iran, will wait indefinitely for Washington to get serious about closing a deal. It also assumes that, if the process breaks down due to a U.S.-induced impasse over terms for a new Security Council resolution, the rest of the world will buy the Obama administration’s narrative that this is Iran and Russia’s fault.

Odds that these assumptions will prove false are greater than Obama and his team are ready to acknowledge, a reality that makes their course strategically irresponsible. Fundamentally, this irresponsibility stems from failure to appreciate the full importance of an Iran nuclear deal, and, beyond that, of a broader realignment of U.S. relations with Tehran, to American interests, in the Middle East and globally.

The Obama administration continues to treat a prospective nuclear deal as what might be described as an asymmetric arms control agreement, whereby Iran gives up ambitions, regularly alleged by American politicians and just as regularly denied by Tehran, to develop nuclear weapons, and the United States gives up well, not very much.

The administration has yet to treat a potential nuclear deal as American interests actually require: that is, as a critical initial step in a broader process of rapprochement with the Islamic Republic of Iran, rapprochement as profound as the realignment of U.S. relations with the People’s Republic of China in the 1970s.

Hopefully, the Obama administration will get through its political theater over a new Security Council resolution over the next few days and close a final nuclear agreement with Iran. But it would be far better if the administration renounced this kind of theater entirely, and got down to the serious business of reformulating U.S.-Iranian relations.

Flynt Leverett served as a Middle East expert on George W. Bush’s National Security Council staff until the Iraq War and worked previously at the State Department and at the Central Intelligence Agency. Hillary Mann Leverett was the NSC expert on Iran and from 2001 to 2003  was one of only a few U.S. diplomats authorized to negotiate with the Iranians over Afghanistan, al-Qaeda and Iraq. They are authors of  Going to Tehran. [This story first appeared as a blog post at HuffingtonPost.]

11 comments for “Obama’s Posturing Risks Iran-Nuke Deal

  1. Abe
    July 14, 2015 at 15:21

    there is currently a war raging in Syria on Iran’s doorstep. The sole purpose of this war, organized and directed by the West, fueled by billions in cash, weapons, and flooded with fighters organized and trafficked from across the globe by NATO and its allies, is to destroy Iran’s chief regional ally before inevitably destroying Iran itself. If the war in Syria is still raging, then one can be assured that the proxy war in turn being waged against Iran is still raging.

    The “nuclear deal,” as it was planned to be all along, is a ruse. The 2013 article, “Nuclear Deal With Iran Prelude to War, Not “Breakthrough,”” in its entirety, explains:

    “…any military operation against Iran will likely be very unpopular around the world and require the proper international context—both to ensure the logistical support the operation would require and to minimize the blowback from it. The best way to minimize international opprobrium and maximize support (however, grudging or covert) is to strike only when there is a widespread conviction that the Iranians were given but then rejected a superb offer—one so good that only a regime determined to acquire nuclear weapons and acquire them for the wrong reasons would turn it down. Under those circumstances, the United States (or Israel) could portray its operations as taken in sorrow, not anger, and at least some in the international community would conclude that the Iranians “brought it on themselves” by refusing a very good deal.”

    -Brookings Institution’s 2009 “Which Path to Persia?” report, page 52.

    Written years ago, as the US, Saudi Arabia, and Israel were already plotting to overrun Iran’s neighbor and ally Syria with Al Qaeda to weaken the Islamic Republic before inevitable war, this quote exposes fully the current charade that is the “Iran nuclear deal.”

    The West has no intention of striking any lasting deal with Iran, as nuclear capabilities, even the acquirement of nuclear weapons by Iran was never truly an existential threat to Western nations or their regional partners. The West’s issue with Iran is its sovereignty and its ability to project its interests into spheres traditionally monopolized by the US and UK across the Middle East. Unless Iran plans on turning over its sovereignty and regional influence along with its right to develop and use nuclear technology, betrayal of any “nuclear deal” is all but inevitable, as is the war that is to shortly follow.

    Warning: Nuclear Deal With Iran Prelude to War, Not “Breakthrough”
    By Tony Cartalucci
    http://landdestroyer.blogspot.ca/2015/07/warning-nuclear-deal-with-iran-prelude.html

  2. Abe
    July 13, 2015 at 11:17

    Wall Street Stands Against Peace

    The place where oil cartels, weapons manufacturers, and Israel supporters are most closely concentrated is on Wall Street. Most major US banking institutions contain all three elements. Digging even slightly into the most powerful circles of global financial power will reveal investments in oil, weapons, and Israeli-aligned entities.

    The most obvious example is Chase Bank. Chase is financially in control of General Electric, one of the top Pentagon contractors and weapons manufacturers. Chase Bank is also the owner of ExxonMobile, the gigantic oil corporation. General Electric, also under the dominion of Chase Bank, also owns MSNBC, a major TV news network that puts forward a blatant pro-Israel perspective on world events.

    The owners of Chase Bank, one of the primary institutions on the global market, simply cannot tolerate an ending of the economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran. Profit margins would dramatically decrease.

    Though the majority of people in the United States have no hostility toward Iran, and would probably benefit from improving relations, the hostility continues. Rising tensions between the United States and Iran serves to benefit a small but wealthy elite.

    The improvement of US-Iran relations will require a huge shift in the balance of forces within US politics. At the moment, every effort is being made by the richest and most powerful people to prevent such an occurrence, and to keep the increasingly dangerous state of affairs intact.

    Who’s been Blocking A Deal With Iran?
    By Caleb Maupin
    http://journal-neo.org/2015/07/13/who-has-been-blocking-a-deal-with-iran/

  3. D5-5
    July 11, 2015 at 18:00

    The word “posturing” implies posing, covering, faking. Possibly at one time it was an honorable term for “policy stance or position.” I was reminded of the “posturing” application in reading one of Ted Snider’s sources yesterday. Here is that source:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/09/opinion/president-obama-thomas-l-friedman-iraq-and-world-affairs.html?_r=4

    In speaking to Thomas Friedman, as one example in the article, Obama patronizes the Iraqis with comment in effect that if the US steps back into Iraq, or supplies too much air support, the Iraqis will sit back “and let the US do it for us.” He then lectures on how the Iraqis should get it together to bring sunnis, shia, and kurds into a common union.

    All this presents him as self-righteously interested in really solving the problems. Of course as we know the sunnis are caught between equally vicious forces from IS and Iraq shia military, with IS, ironically, the lesser of these two evils in at times offering aid. There is no simplistic solution here.

    The reality is Obama is not interested in a unified Iraq, which would ally with Iran, but in continuing to see it destroyed or Libyanized. But he chooses to “posture” in the NY Times. And this report, with his posturing, is actually a tissue of lies wrapped in self-righteous indignation. This makes the man secretive, dangerous, and not suitable for the position he occupies.

    If he would argue back that he is completely sincere, in this report referenced above, he needs psychiatric help on his schizoid tendencies.You can’t posture like this while simultaneously supporting militants in Syria, which is the effect of the inept policy to develop “moderates” there, with weaponry leaking there, plus saying nothing to restrain Turkey and Saudi Arabia and Israel in supporting the militants. Because if you do, in consistency with these remarks to Thomas Friedman, that will make you seem “weak” and work against the posture of toughness and cool you are trying to project.

  4. Zachary Smith
    July 11, 2015 at 15:50

    The Obama administration appears to calculate that it can posture in this way for some as yet unspecified period time…

    Why not? After all, that option is being actively discussed.

    http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2015/07/08/white-house-let-iran-talks-continue-indefinitely/29859453/

    and

    hxxp://www.lawfareblog.com/alternative-iran-deal

    Keep dangling promising morsels in front of the Iranians, and toss them a bone every once in a while with another Iran account unfrozen somewhere. If Obama can stall until early 2017, the whole problem can be dumped on somebody else. And he won’t anger anybody considering contributions to his Presidential Library or to his own bank account via fees for speechifying to rich people.

  5. Stefan
    July 11, 2015 at 15:29

    The burden of proof is on you, so where is your proof that Iran is developing an “aggressive nuclear program” (by “aggressive” I assume you mean the development of nuclear weapons). 16 US intel agencies say you are wrong, and even Mossad does not agree with your presumption that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons. It seems to me you are happy to invent facts.

    Iran is not a criminal regime, however, USA is. The list is long of US warcrimes, covert terror operations, illegal wars of aggression, genocide, use of WMD, use of biological warfare. US funds MEK, a terrorist group to commit terror acts against Iranians. USA and Israel assassinate iranian scientists, they unleash cyber attacks (stuxnet) against Iran, impose illegal sanctions on Iran based on fabrications produced by Israel and the Israel lobby. USA is openly arming Al Qaeda affiliated terrorist groups to wreak havoc in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere (much like the Negroponte Contras model used in South America).

    The list goes on and on.

    If you want to attack the aggressor nation, then attack the aggressor, not its victim. Do some read up and get the facts straight.

  6. Laila Jazayeri
    July 11, 2015 at 13:11

    The theocratic regime ruling Iran will never give up its aggressive nuclear program because the mullahs need nuclear bomb for their very survival and to take the rest of the world as hostage. Shame on Obama for his disgusting counter-productive policy of appeasement toward a criminal regime that executes one every 8 hours in Iran including minors and women and is the Godfather of ISIS and Islamic fundamentalism. Shame on Obama and the rest of P5+1!

    • Stefan
      July 11, 2015 at 15:24

      The burden of proof is on you, so where is your proof that Iran is developing an “aggressive nuclear program” (by “aggressive” I assume you mean the development of nuclear weapons).

      Iran is not a criminal regime, however, USA is. The list is long of US warcrimes, covert terror operations, illegal wars of aggression, genocide, use of WMD, use of biological warfare. US funds MEK, a terrorist group to commit terror acts against Iranians. USA and Israel assassinate iranian scientists, they unleash cyber attacks (stuxnet) against Iran, impose illegal sanctions on Iran based on fabrications produced by Israel and the Israel lobby. USA is openly arming Al Qaeda affiliated terrorist groups to wreak havoc in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere (much like the Negroponte Contras model used in South America).

      The list goes on and on.

      If you want to attack the aggressor nation, then attack the aggressor, not its victim.

    • Chuo
      July 14, 2015 at 10:06

      It’s not Laila, but Netanyahu who wrote “her” message.

    • john
      July 11, 2015 at 15:34

      Laila………all of those who came from the loins of Abraham are lairs and indiscriminate killers…. If you don’t believe this statement research the history of Abraham ‘s offspring who are the Hebrew and Arab…… The Iranians are Persian …..There is much to tell about this story but you are not ready to receive the truth……..

    • D5-5
      July 11, 2015 at 18:05

      Could you give us some evidence, or a link or two to reliable information, that the Iranians are seeking to take the world hostage,and executing people including minors and children at the rate of one every 8 hours?

    • Amin
      July 11, 2015 at 21:02

      Unfortunately, Laila has a personal vendetta against the regime in Iran and she would only be satisfied if the entire population suffers and is wiped out in the process.

Comments are closed.