Kerry not saying

Omri Ceren summarizes recent developments involving Iran’s use of the cash kindly released to the regime by the Obama administration under the JCPOA. As always, Omri provides alphabetized footnotes to his summary. Omri writes:

The context is the recent Iranian announcement that they intend to purchase Sukhoi-30 warplanes from Russia. According to UNSCR 2231 that sale has to go through the Security Council, which means the U.S. can veto it. The relevant language says weapons sales to Iran need to be approved by the UNSC “in advance on a case-by-case basis” if the weapons fall under the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms. The section even explicitly specifies “combat aircraft” [a].

At today’s House Foreign Affairs Committee briefing Rep. Sherman asked Sec. Kerry whether the U.S. intends to veto the sale. Kerry refused to commit to a veto:

SHERMAN: … under the UN Security Council Resolution 2231, Russia can’t sell fighter planes to Iran unless the Security Council specifically approves that. I’ll ask you, will we use our veto to prevent fighter planes from being sold to Iran from Russia?

KERRY: Well, I don’t think you have to use a veto. I think it’s a matter of a committee. There’s a committee and it’s in approval in the committee, but we would not approve it.

SHERMAN: And would we use our veto if necessary to prevent the sale?

KERRY: To the best of my knowledge, Congressman, I don’t, I haven’t looked at the specifics of the transaction, etc. In principle, we are very concerned about the transfer of weapons and so, you know, we would approach it with great skepticism. But I haven’t seen the specific transfer or what the request is. We have a committee that will analyze this thoroughly before anything happens and the committee signs off on it, I assure you. We’ll stay in touch with you.

It’s not obvious why the Secretary hadn’t been briefed about “the specifics of the transaction.” The Sukhois took up a week of press inquiries about Iran. Nonetheless his answer is part of a pattern – now several weeks old – of administration officials refusing to commit to vetoing the warplane sale.

The sale first broke across U.S. wires on Feb 10. Reuters quoted Iranian DM Hossein Dehghan revealing “we have even decided on the number of Sukhoi-30 fighter jets” to buy and the AP had him elaborating “we told them that we need to be involved in the production” of the warplanes [b][c]. Michael Singh – Washington Institute Managing Director – quickly tweeted “For the next five years, US or other P5 member could block this per UNSC Res 2231” [d].

Over the next week the administration went from: denying it could veto to not knowing if it could veto to refusing to answer if it would veto. For the first few days the administration flat out denied that it had the ability to block weapons sales. All of that was off the record. Then reporters started asking questions publicly at briefings, and State’s position shifted: for two consecutive days – Feb 16 and 17 – State Department spokesman Toner told journalists the administration wasn’t sure if the U.S. could veto [e][f]. Then on Feb 18, more than a week after the news first broke, the State Department acknowledged the sale is illegal and falls under UNSCR 2231 [g]. Subsequent coverage that day indicated the Obama administration did indeed have the authority to block the sale [h].

But it was still not clear if the White House would actually use its veto authority, and it’s still not clear after today’s hearing, with Kerry expressing ignorance of the details of the sale.

Some skeptics are now suggesting that the administration is trying to sandbag Congress on the Sukhoi sale. The move would be repeat of what happened throughout the two years of nuclear negotiations: administration officials would routinely brush off questions about specific concessions by declaring that the entire package was made up of moving parts that all had to fit together, so nothing was final until everything was final. Then when all the details were finalized, the entire package was presented to Congress as a fait accompli: lawmakers were told that the deal couldn’t be reopened and that rejecting it would lead to war.

[a] http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/2231(2015)
[b] http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4764457,00.html
[c] http://mobile.nytimes.com/aponline/2016/02/10/world/middleeast/ap-ml-iran-russia.html
[d] https://twitter.com/MichaelSinghDC/status/697469439814602752
[e] http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/dpb/2016/02/252539.htm#IRAN
[f] http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/dpb/2016/02/252582.htm#IRAN
[g] http://bigstory.ap.org/article/9f8c84e9e573471481e7d737f8b15d73/us-russian-fighter-jet-sale-iran-would-violate-arms-ban
[h] http://freebeacon.com/national-security/obama-admin-could-halt-new-iran-russia-weapons-deals/

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