Only Obama Can Derail Final Deal With Iran

To anyone who was slightly worried over the Iranian delegation walking out of talks on implementing the interim deal in response to the U.S. “designations” against companies for trading with Iran, your heart rate can return to normal. Secretary of State John Kerry called Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif last Saturday and discussed how to move forward the deal’s implementation. Then on Tuesday there came the semi-shocker—and shocking only that it was announced at this early date—from Ali Akbar Velayati, foreign adviser to Supreme Leader Khameini, that Tehran was primed for the final deal. So, in spite of this minor bump in road, a comprehensive nuclear agreement is as close as it ever was.  Although the U.S. enforcing these previously existing sanctions was technically a non-issue—there was nothing in the interim deal that proscribed Washington from doing so and the State Department warned Iran beforehand about the blacklisting—why would the Obama administration take any actions possibly hazardous to diplomacy?

This crackdown and Iran’s response was simply an instance of both the administration and the Islamic Republic testing out the limits of the interim deal, discovering what the other was willing to tolerate. The administration, looking to circumvent Congress’s clamoring for new nuclear sanctions, is trying to find a fitting outlet for the demand to be tough on Iran by stepping up enforcement and even contemplating non-nuclear related sanctions. Iran, for its part, by protesting that the U.S. is breaching the spirit, if not the letter, of the agreement is informing the U.S. that it won’t be able to capitalize on too many such technicalities. Both sides got these messages and so they were rapidly able to set things back on track. It’s also remarkable that hardliners in the U.S. couldn’t make any hay out of Iran’s walkout and this could be because Obama’s attempt to satisfy them with the enforcement efforts is working.

Since the die-hard sanctions supporters can be successfully soothed, it’s proof positive that only the administration is in a position to screw up the P5+1 arriving at final deal (not that it will). Even if Congress was to insist on new sanctions they would run up against impassioned public resistance to anything that would scuttle the final deal. The Israeli government will be a non-factor as well seeing that Prime Minister Netanyahu only stands in Washington’s way on Iran to see what kind of compensation he can get from a grateful U.S. when he pipes down and goes with the diplomatic flow. This gimmick has yet again payed off, with the administration requesting $96 million in additional funding to Israel for joint defense cooperation with the U.S. and Congress quickly tripling it to $284 million before approving. By receiving this aid and more in future, Israel will be playing its part in containing the revived regional influence of a non-nuclear Iran free of crippling sanctions.

One last reason for Obama having every incentive to not flub a final deal is the other P5+1 members kicking out the U.S. from the coalition and drafting up their own endgame accord. British MP Jack Straw, in his Parliamentary remarks the day after the interim deal was reached, asked Foreign Secretary William Hague “Will the Foreign Secretary make it clear to the Americans that if Prime Minister Netanyahu’s efforts at the United States Congress prevent President Obama from continuing with the negotiations, the UK, Germany, France and the EU will have to detach themselves from America and reach their own conclusions, along with other members of the P5?” To which Hague replied, “I do not think that we need, at this point, to start looking at the other scenarios that the right hon. Gentleman brought in of acting separately from the United States.” Acting separately from Washington is indeed on the table for its partners whether Congress or the White House becomes an inflexible element in the negotiations. Obama isn’t about to hand Russia the very diplomatic triumph that he needs to cement his legacy in foreign affairs.

Getting Our Mideast Allies on Board With the Final Deal

When asked at the Saban Forum over the weekend what the probability of reaching an end state agreement with Iran was, President Obama replied “I wouldn’t say that it’s more than 50/50.” Obama was undoubtedly downplaying the likelihood of a satisfactory settlement. He knows Congress will pose the only obstacle with its ritual crying for more and more sanctions that are as ineffective as they are punitive. But Congress will come around in good time once the Obama administration convinces the American people that failure to reach a comprehensive agreement will lead to war. The legislators will buckle before public pressure as they nearly did in September when Congress was on the cusp of rejecting giving Obama permission to strike Syria. The popular opposition is even now mustering against congressional meddling as detailed by a Hart Research Associates poll which found that 68 percent of those surveyed “agreed with the proposition that Congress should not take any action that would block the accord or jeopardize negotiations for a permanent settlement.”

Wait, wait—how can I claim that Congress is the biggest impediment to these negotiations? What about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the font of all opposition to successful U.S. diplomacy with Iran? No, I haven’t forgotten about him; it’s just that the White House views Netanyahu as an irrelevant nuisance, a mark for mockery. Here is the Times of Israel’s Adiv Sterman elaborating on the administration’s thinking:

“Netanyahu’s vocal opposition to the signing of an interim deal was “weak and desperate,” an unnamed senior official at the White House reportedly said Sunday. According to a Channel 10 news report, the senior American official added that although the White House believes Netanyahu will attempt to thwart US government policy by appealing to members of Congress, the administration does not see the Israeli Prime Minister as a threat in this regard. Netanyahu’s statements since the interim deal with Iran was signed “indicate a lack of self-confidence. We’re not excited about his vocal opposition.” Still, the unnamed official added, “We do not really fear the result. We have learned how to work in spite of him; he can be managed.”

Those remarks were not an exercise in idle boasting by a cocky, anonymous official. The administration has indeed neutralized Netanyahu and is handling the premier with two methods. The first is by keeping the Israelis and Palestinians at the negotiating table so Washington can apply immense pressure on that front should Israel grow too vocal in its resistance to the U.S.’s diplomatic advancements with Iran. Putting Israel in this vise is working as Netanyahu has calmed down from his initial hysterics and is looking to make sane, reasonable requests when consulting with the U.S. about the final deal, as Geoff Dyer reports:

However, among western officials involved in the Iran talks, there is a growing belief that Mr Netanyahu has come to terms with the idea that Iran will have some form of uranium enrichment capacity in any final agreement. “Netanyahu would publicly deny it, but it does seem as if the Israelis have understood that this will be the nature of the deal,” a western official said. Instead, some officials say Israel is turning its attention to pushing for different conditions for a final deal, including transforming Arak into a light water reactor and significantly reducing the number of centrifuges to between 1,000 and 2,000

The ink was hardly dry on Dyer’s article when, at the very venue where he gave his estimation for the final Iran deal, Obama had this to say about progress towards a Palestinian state and ending that conflict: “I think it is possible over the next several months to arrive at a framework that does not address every single detail but gets us to a point where everybody recognizes better to move forward than move backwards.” The Palestinians took this to mean that the administration was fudging on the final agreement promised them. While this isn’t technically true, a pause would mean that Netanyahu has caved on Iran and is being rewarded for his compliance. This linkage between Iran and Palestine may not have been necessary in light of method number two but it was a fail-safe just in case.

Netanyahu would have fallen in line without any of this pressure because the White House knows well that the Prime Minister only pretends to fears the Islamic Republic and threatens to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities so Israel can get showered with arms and aid from Washington. Unsurprisingly, yet another round of U.S. munificence is behind Netanyahu softening up and taking an approach towards the final deal with Iran that won’t result in sabotage. “As part of its efforts to heal the rift with the Israeli government and with the Saudis,” the Times of Israel reported on the day the interim deal was concluded, “the administration also intends to provide additional military and other aid to both countries.” Two weeks later, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced the arrival of that package, an early Christmas gift courtesy of Santa Uncle Sam. The states of the Gulf Cooperation Council, if they promise to cooperate with each other, will soon be unwrapping “more coordinated radars, sensors and early warning missile defense systems.”

This squabble with Iran was evidently never about their nuclear ambitions and all about sustaining a symbiotic scheme between the U.S.’s military industrial complex and the U.S.’s Mideast allies. The whole thing has been window dressing for setting up for a non-nuclear cold war. Hagel said as much in his speech at the Manama Dialogue. “His broader message,” writes Lolita Baldor, “was that while Iran’s nuclear program is a critical worry, its other conventional missile threats, terrorism links and occasional provocative maritime behavior also greatly concern the U.S. and the region. And those threats are not addressed by the nuclear agreement.” In other words, the showdown with Iran will go on after a final deal but at least that means there will most definitely be a final deal. The hot war must be officially taken off the table (unofficially it was never on) to make room for the cold.