This page catches up the most recent headline developments in the Iran nuclear agreement. For a more complete backstory, click on the site search for ‘Iran’.
August 13, 2015
There are now five weeks until the deadline for a congressional vote on the Iran nuclear deal, and the White House got a boost on Thursday when Minnesota Sen Al Franken and Montana Sen John Tester threw their support behind the agreement.
Franken wrote in an op-ed at CNN:
Diplomacy requires cooperation and compromise. You don’t negotiate with your friends; you negotiate with your enemies. Indeed, no one who’s for this deal has any delusions about the nature of the Iranian regime, any more than American presidents who made nuclear arms agreements with the Soviet Union had delusions about the nature of the communist regime there.
For a long time, it has looked like our only options when it came to Iran would be allowing it to have a nuclear bomb or having to bomb the country ourselves. This agreement represents a chance to break out of that no-win scenario.
But the issue remains divisive and continues to mobilize powerful advocates on both sides.
August 11, 2015
The Iran nuclear deal gained some high profile military backing, in an open letter by 36 former US Generals and Admirals.
Sen Chuck Schumer, however, was reported to be lobbying against the agreement, apparently contrary to the White House’s understanding that he would not do so.
August 9, 2015
Democratic Sen Chuck Schumer broke his silence on his opposition to the Iran nuclear deal, saying that he believed the pact “fell short.”
“Some say the only answer to this is war. I don’t believe so,” Schumer said during a press conference in Rochester, N.Y. “I believe we should go back and try to get a better deal,” he added. “The nations of the world should join us in that.”
August 7, 2015 – Obama faces test over Iran deal
As the President and first family arrive for their vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, the White House was on the back foot after Sen Chuck Schumer used the cover of the Republican debate to announce that he would vote against the Iran nuclear deal.
The Washington Post writes:
Although Schumer indicated that he would not actively encourage others to vote against the Iran deal, the White House moved to marginalize his position, citing his support for the Iraq war in 2003 as part of a long-standing tendency to disagree with Obama on foreign policy and the use of American power.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest dismissed Schumer’s stance, saying it is “not particularly surprising to anybody here at the White House, even if it was disappointing.”
But as the backlash grew, Mike DeBonis at the Washington Post writes that the decision by the presumptive Democratic leader in the Senate might not be as bad for the President as some analysts predict.
The decision generated immediate venom from liberal activists and from former aides to President Obama. MoveOn.org called it “outrageous and unacceptable that the Democrat who wants to be the party’s leader in the Senate is siding with the Republican partisans and neoconservative ideologues.” Former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau tweeted, “This is our next Senate leader?” — to which former Obama aide Tommy Vietor added, “He just made that a lot less likely.”
But for a variety of reasons, Schumer’s decision is not that big of a deal. It’s not going to kill the Iran deal. It’s not going to swing many, if any, Senate votes. And it’s not going to keep Schumer from succeeding Reid as the Senate’s top Democrat.
Meanwhile, a group of 58 congress members from both parties are in Israel to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on a trip paid for by the charitable arm of lobbyist AIPAC.
The deal did pick up one significant backer on Friday.
July 28, 2015 – Pressure mounts over Iran deal
With a new CNN poll showing the American people split over the Iran nuclear deal, Secretary of State John Kerry was back on the Hill on Tuesday, testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
As well as warning that rejection of the deal would have “dire consequences” Sec Kerry said that the impending release of Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard was not tied to the agreement.
Kerry wasn’t the only one lobbying for the deal today.
While if world leaders and senior members of the Obama administration can’t convince Congress, there’s always Morgan Freeman and Jack Black.
Aaron David Miller writes at CNN on why there is such public uncertainty.
Such skepticism is hardly surprising, partly because it’s based on negative attitudes toward Iran that have been building since the 1979 revolution and hostage crisis. A Gallup poll earlier this year found only 11% of Americans surveyed had a favorable opinion of Iran — the lowest percentage of 22 countries, including Syrian, Russia and North Korea.
Indeed, if the Iran story were filled with heroic acts of peacemaking — with pictures to highlight historic breakthroughs and handshakes, such as the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty — there might be a much more uniformly positive reaction. But President Obama is — fairly or not — a polarizing figure. And the Iranian mullahs are hardly poster children for pro-American sensibilities.
On the other side of the equation, there’s Ted Cruz,
while another GOP Presidential candidate, Mick Huckabee, doubled down on his inflammatory holocaust rhetoric in criticizing the deal.
July 23, 2015
Secretary of State John Kerry defended the Iran nuclear deal in front of a Senate committee. He had something of a rough ride. Republican committee chairman Sen Bob Corker told him “you’ve been fleeced.” (Although I’m not sure I totally understood Corker’s “hotel guest” analogy – is he saying Kerry’s the guest, in which case he got away with something, but it sounds like its his only thing, or is Kerry the hotel, and he’s had something stolen from him? Is the bathrobe made of fleece? Like much of the debate, it sounds like the soundbite was more important than the reasoning.)
July 22, 2015
Secretary of State John Kerry and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz brief Congress on Thursday on details of the Iran nuclear deal.
Watch live here on C-Span –
They write in a joint op-ed at the Washington Post that
We recognize that Iran remains a threat to stability in the Middle East. That danger is precisely why this deal is so necessary and why we fought so hard for the multilateral arms embargo to remain in place for five years and the embargo on ballistic missiles for eight. U.S. sanctions related to terrorism, human rights and missiles will also continue.
A nuclear-armed Iran is a threat to our allies in the Middle East, as well as to the United States and the international community. By taking this threat off the table, this deal makes it far less complicated to address the many other problems that we have with Iran’s regional actions.
NBC‘s Richard Engel also reports that Kerry says diplomats are “working very hard” on the case of Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, who on Wednesday marked one year in detention in Iran.
Meanwhile thousands of anti-Iran deal protesters gathered in New York’s Times Square.
July 21, 2015
As Secretary of State John Kerry prepares to attempt to sell the Iran nuclear deal to Congress this week, the anti-deal lobby is kicking into high gear. The Boston Globe reports that The American Israel Public Affairs Committee is supporting a group called Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran that is planning to run up to $40 million worth of TV ads against the deal.
The Republican Jewish Coalition, an advocacy group opposing the deal, is co-sponsoring a rally in New York’s Times Square on Wednesday evening.
President Obama, meanwhile, took his case for the deal to the Veterans of Foreign Wars Convention in Pittsburgh and equated the opponents of the current deal with those who had pressed for military action against Iraq.
(White House – Speech begins at 46:00 mark)
While the reception was generally warm to the commander-in-chief, a VFW member from South Dakota tried to unfurl a sign that read “the emperor of Benghazi has no clothes.” When his sign was taken, he stood in protest until he shouted during the president’s speech, which led to his being escorted from the ballroom.
Meanwhile, the White House took the fight to social media.
As Israel’s opposition ramps up, The Guardian reports on how satire almost imitates life.
On a more serious note, Shibley Telhami writes at Reuters on how “Netanyahu steered the US towards war with Iran – the result is a deal he hates.”
How would war have been good for Israel? The Jewish state would have been, for the first time, at war with a Persian civilization (since all Iranians would likely have unified against the enemy) that would inevitably develop nuclear weapons anyway. It would have seemed that the United States was deliberately dragged into war on behalf of Israel — undermining the Israeli-U.S. relationship. How in the world is that good for Israel?
July 20, 2015
The UN Security Council unanimously approved the agreement on Iran’s nuclear development reached between Tehran and the US and its allies last week. With the US congress now engaged in review of the deal, Secretary of State John Kerry will brief members of the House and Senate later this week.
July 19, 2015 – Congress begins 60-day review process for Iran nuclear deal
President Obama and members of his administration have extended their aggressive campaign to sell the nuclear agreement with Iran at home and abroad.
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is in Israel on the first leg of a Middle East trip to reassure US allies in the region, and will meet his Israeli counterpart on Monday, having said that the deal does not mean military action is “off the table” when it comes to stopping Tehran from developing nuclear weapons.
On Sunday the agreement was submitted to Congress to begin the formal 60-day review period. The UN Security Council is set to vote on Monday morning to clear a path for sanctions against Iran to be lifted, as stipulated in the deal agreed in Vienna last week. The New York Times reports:
At least two senior Democrats have joined the Republican leadership in complaining that the Security Council action, expected Monday morning, would pre-empt the congressional debate. Their concern is that it would signal the international community’s intention to dismantle the sanctions — if Iran meets the nuclear terms of the accord — before American lawmakers have had time to vote on it…
A provision inserted into the agreement at the behest of American negotiators, he said, stipulates that the deal will not take effect until 90 days after the Security Council formally endorses the accord — giving Congress time for action.
Secretary of State John Kerry and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz appeared on the Sunday talk shows, maintaining there was “no viable alternative” to the deal for making the Middle East safer. The Washington Post reports:
Kerry said that if opponents in Congress get enough votes to override a presidential veto, the consequences will be dire, warning that Iran would resume enriching uranium to levels prohibited under the deal. “If Congress says no to this deal, then there will be no restraints on Iran, there will be no sanctions left,” he said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
Meanwhile, the executive editor of the Washington Post, Martin Baron, has urged the administration to “work harder” to secure the release of post journalist Jason Rezaian, held in Iran on espionage charges.
July 15, 2015 – White House ramps up campaign to sell Iran deal
President Obama went on the offensive on Wednesday, taking on his political opponents – and skeptical allies – directly as he seeks to build support, or even mere acceptance, for the landmark nuclear deal with Iran.
In a more-than-one-hour press conference on Wednesday, the President repeatedly challenged those who oppose the deal to advocate for a different option, saying that the only alternative to such a deal is war. “If the alternative is that we should bring Iran to heel through military force, then those critics should say so. And that will be an honest debate.”
Glenn Thrush at Politico writes that Obama “has seldom worn his fierce urgency so publicly as he does now.”
When a wire service reporter asked an opening query about Iran’s military capability, Obama blew past as if he were invisible — and said he first wanted to dispense with critics’ attacks on the deal. For the next 10 minutes or so, he filibustered to the floodlights, leaning on the lectern as he laid out arguments pressed by congressional Republicans and Israel-centric Democrats, swatting them aside one-by-one. He never got around to answering the question.
Earlier, the President gave an interview to Tom Friedman of the New York Times.
Vice-President Joe Biden is set to head to Capitol Hill on Thursday to pitch the deal to Senate Democrats on the Foreign Relations Committee.
With Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu engaged in another US media blitz against the deal, US National Security Adviser Susan Rice told Reuters that, under the agreement, Iran “will have no way to avoid inspections of military or other sites that the United States and its allies deem suspicious.”
The United Nations Security Council is expected to vote next week on a resolution endorsing the agreement and terminating targeted sanctions, “but to retain an arms embargo and ballistic missile technology ban, diplomats said.”
Jeffrey Goldberg writes at The Atlantic that the “morally dubious agreement might be a practical necessity.”
Does this deal significantly reduce the chance that Iran could, in the foreseeable future (20 years is the time period Obama mentioned in an interview with me in May), continue its nefarious activities under the protection of a nuclear umbrella? If the answer to this question is yes, then a deal, in theory, is worth supporting.
The degree of difficulty the President and his surrogates face over the coming weeks has been signaled over the past 24 hours by the often inflammatory rhetoric among the deal’s already committed opponents.
One of the most frequent soundbites was the use of the word “appeasement” – used by Jeb Bush, John Bolton and other GOP figures, as well as radio talk-show hosts.
But for every mention of Chamberlain, there have been plenty of references to more recent Conservative icons, recalling either Nixon’s visit to China in 1972, or as EJ Dionne writes at the Washington Post how Obama “echoes Reagan”.
It’s worth remembering that Reagan’s willingness to bargain with Gorbachev weakened the hard-liners in the Soviet Union, creating the opening for its collapse. And there are parallels between the two-step approaches that both Reagan and Obama took to a problematic foe. The Gipper was very tough at the outset of his presidency, and the Soviet Union realized it could not keep up with U.S. defense spending. Gorbachev came to the table. Obama got our allies to impose much tougher sanctions, and Iran came to the table.
There is no way of knowing if this deal will lead to a dramatic transformation inside Iran, and there are some legitimate doubts that it will. But then, Reagan’s conservative skeptics were also insistent that the Soviet Union could never change, and surely never fall. They were wrong and Reagan’s bet paid off. Obama is now making a comparable wager.
July 14, 2015
Commentators and citizens have been digesting the Iran nuclear deal announced on Tuesday, and what it means for the future of the Middle East.
Karen Tumelty and Paul Kane at the Washington Post write on what the deal means for Hillary Clinton, saying that:
The 2016 Democratic presidential front-runner’s endorsement stands against nearly unanimous Republican opposition, led by denunciations from the large and growing field of GOP candidates. The clash offers further evidence that foreign policy could loom as a crucial issue in the election.
As Congressional Republicans organize their attack plan for the next 60 days, the agreement will also have serious implications for the GOP Presidential race. Eli Stokols and Katie Glueck at Politico write:
Looking past the initial race to react, the Iran deal brings two near-term shifts in the crowded Republican race.
One, it puts foreign policy even more sharply at the forefront of the campaign discussion. With Congress due to review the deal for the next couple of months, the issue of Iran and the larger Middle East turmoil will be very much a live one during the first Republican debates. That’s good news for those with foreign policy chops, and not-so-good news for those still studying up.
And two, it could give senators a perception edge currently enjoyed by governors, who typically are able to present themselves as the action-oriented executives. In this case, the senators get to not only talk the talk, but walk the walk.
July 13, 2015 – Landmark Iran nuclear deal announced
UPDATE 8AM ET, 14 July
Negotiators from the US and other world powers said an agreement had been reached to limit Iran’s potential capability for developing nuclear weapons, in exchange for relief from economic sanctions.
Announcing what is likely to be the key foreign policy element of his tenure, President Obama said that “the deal offers an opportunity to move in a new direction. We should seize it.” Iran’s President Rouhani said the deal’s biggest achievement is “that there is a new atmosphere in the region.”
Reuters reports that the agreement caps “more than a decade of negotiations with an agreement that could transform the Middle East.”
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the deal as an “historic mistake.”
Global oil prices fell on the news, although there were no immediate details on how and when sanctions on oil might be eased.
The focus – at least in the US – now moves to Congress, where there is expected to be significant opposition during the 60-day discussion period.
Charles Krauthammer, writing in the Washington Post, calls the deal “the worst agreement in US diplomatic history.”
The devil is not in the details. It’s in the entire conception of the Iran deal, animated by President Obama’s fantastical belief that he, uniquely, could achieve detente with a fanatical Islamist regime whose foundational purpose is to cleanse the Middle East of the poisonous corruption of American power and influence.
Peter Bienart at The Atlantic writes that the deal angers President Obama’s critics because it “highlights the limits of American power.”
The actual alternatives to a deal, in other words, are grim. Which is why critics discuss them as little as possible. The deal “falls apart, and then what happens?” CBS’s John Dickerson asked House Majority Leader John Boehner on Sunday. “No deal is better than a bad deal,” Boehner replied. “And from everything that’s leaked from these negotiations, the administration has backed away from almost all of the guidelines that they set out for themselves.”
In other words, Boehner evaded the question. The only way to determine if a “bad deal” is worse than “no deal” is to consider the latter’s consequences. Which is exactly what Boehner refused to do.
Roula Khalaf at the Financial Times says the agreement represents a “victory for pragmatism in Iran” and has the potential over time to be a “geopolitical game changer in the Middle East.”
The most important political aspect of the accord is the promise of a détente between the US and Iran, whose estrangement has been a principal source of tension in the Middle East. The Iranian regime and the US are beginning to turn the page on 35 years of hostility that followed the 1979 Islamic revolution and the takeover of the US embassy in Tehran, a painful atrocity etched in the collective American memory.
MIDNIGHT ET, 13 July 2015 – Negotiators said to be ‘on brink’ of Iran nuclear deal
After 17 days of negotiations in Vienna, diplomats seem poised to finally announce on Tuesday an historic agreement on Iran’s nuclear capability.
Vox.com has three crucial issues to watch for in any deal, while Reuters reports that the draft deal specifies that UN inspectors “would have access to all suspect Iranian sites – including military ones.”
Iranian President Rouhani tweeted an apparently congratulatory message, before abruptly deleting it and replacing it with a more cautious text.
The New York Times reports that negotiators on both sides “went virtually silent” on Monday after warning that a potential deal was still “fragile”.
The agreement runs more than 80 pages, including annexes, and covers the pace of research and development on advanced uranium enrichment, the size of nuclear stockpiles over the next 15 years and the pace at which oil, financial and other sanctions will be lifted. If a deal is announced in the coming days, Congress will have 60 days to review it, and opponents of the deal in Congress and in Israel made clear on Monday that they planned to make the most of that time.
Any agreement would likely face a tough road in Congress, as opposition at home and abroad has been well-marshalled for some time, if not perhaps fully focused.
Gov Scott Walker, who launched his Presidential campaign on Monday – more of which later – accompanied by a former hostage from the 1979 crisis, said Iran is “not a place to do business with” and that any deal “needed to be terminated on the very first day in office”.
Overseas, the office of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyau launched a Twitter feed in Farsi to criticize the deal.
But the last, best word, as so often, goes to this flashback from The Onion ..
July 12, 2015
An announcement of an Iran nuclear deal is thought to be possible on Monday, according to diplomats.
But the agreement has already attracted criticism from Republicans in the US and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
July 7, 2015
The decisive date for a possible Iran nuclear agreement has apparently shifted to Friday.
Ishaan Tharoor writes at the Washington Post on ‘how to cover a story that keeps not happening’ while Xinhua quotes EU negotiator Federica Mogherini as saying:
“The time is now, it’s a window that we are using at the maximum, but we are not closing the window and then opening another window at another time we are using the time now.”
July 6, 2015
The Iran nuclear negotiations appear set to miss their nominal deadline of Tuesday. But as former Middle East envoy Dennis Ross writes at Politico,
The Obama administration should make clear that it is prepared to conclude a deal at any time, provided it is fully consistent with the framework understanding from April; anything less, and there will be no deal. If the Iranians insist on trying to walk back or redefine the framework understanding, they will not only stretch out the negotiations but will lead us to harden our own position and impose new conditions.
July 5, 2015
A nuclear agreement with Iran remains stubbornly close, according to negotiators, but US Secretary of State John Kerry said “difficult issues” remain and the talks “could go either way” ahead of Tuesday’s deadline.
July 3, 2015
A nuclear deal between Iran and western powers is understood to be close. The BBC reports that “Russia’s chief negotiator Sergei Ryabkov said the text of the agreement was more than 90% complete. Some of the major sticking points have included the timing of sanctions relief and the question of access for UN nuclear inspectors.”
The Los Angeles Times reports that the US is “stockpiling powerful bunker-buster bombs in case the talks fail.”
U.S. officials have publicized the new bomb partly to rattle the Iranians. Some Pentagon officials warned not to underestimate U.S. military capabilities even if the bunker-busters can’t eliminate Iran’s nuclear program.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, suggested at the same Pentagon news conference Thursday that airstrikes might be ordered multiple times if Iran tries to build a bomb.