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.