Omri Ceren writes from Lausanne by email with comments for media covering developments related to the negotiations with the Islamic Republic of Iran:
Secretary Kerry and FM Zarif started off the second day in a row with a 10:00am meeting (technically 10:08am), which again including US Energy Secretary Moniz and Iranian Atomic Energy Organization chief Salehi. Presumably the rumor mill will pick up around lunch time again, but in the meantime all the overnight action was in DC. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers processed yesterday’s WSJ and AP scoops – describing US collapses on PMDs and Fordow respectively – and moved quickly (and in the Senate’s case, unanimously) to register their opposition.
The concession on PMDs would push back demands that Iran fully disclose its nuclear activities from the beginning of a deal to a time after the sanctions regime had been weakened. Critics say the arrangement would enable the Iranians to simply say no (“if they’re denying the IAEA access to facilities now, with sanctions in place, why wouldn’t they do the same thing later, when there are fewer sanctions?”). The concession on Fordow would allow Iran to keep spinning centrifuges at its underground military bunker at Fordow on elements other than uranium. Critics say that the arrangement would allow the Iranians to develop N-generation centrifuges even if they’re not cheating, and give them the option of kicking out inspectors and repurposing the centrifuges for uranium enrichment in the facility, which is largely impervious to air attack.
Now the political backlash.
(1) House: the House had already asserted itself on the eve of talks. On Monday 367 members – a bipartisan, veto-proof majority – sent the White House a letter saying among other things that “Congress must be convinced that its terms foreclose any pathway to a bomb, and only then will Congress be able to consider permanent sanctions relief.”…Boehner’s “not a good deal” tweet was up within an hour here.
(2) Senate: in the Senate the aftermath had similar statements, but action went way beyond that…. see Menendez here (“we are not inching closer to Iran’s negotiating position, but leaping toward it with both feet… not a good deal”).
But the more dramatic move was a 100-0 vote – just before 6:30pm ET – on Kirk’s amendment to reimpose sanctions on the Iranians if they get caught cheating on a deal. The nonbinding language is grounded in a section on violations written into the Kirk-Menendez legislation, which more broadly increases pressure on Iran if they fail to sign on to a deal that puts their atomic program beyond use for weaponization. The effect of the vote was to put the entire Senate on record supporting the principles of Kirk-Menendez, and AFP quickly moved to describe the vote as “US Senate threatens Iran with new sanctions[.]” Note that just a few days ago Democrats had been blocking the measure (http://freebeacon.com/national-security/senate-dems-blocking-new-iran-sanctions-measure/). Yesterday the entire caucus voted for it.
* Note on terminology…about the Fordow cave-in…[T]he administration seems set on ensuring that this concession not be characterized as enrichment and not be characterized as allowing nuclear research & development, even though the Iranians will be permitted to conduct isotope separation in a way that allows them to research & develop N-generation centrifuge technology that could be used on uranium.
Continuing with this series, I’ll be posting Omri’s further updates as received.