Losin’ in Lausanne (4)

Omri Ceren writes from Lausanne on the impending deal with Iran:

Fabius arrived at the Beau-Rivage this morning and was marched by reporters at 10:20am. Key lines: “I am coming here with the desire to move towards a robust agreement… We have made progress on certain issues but not enough on others.”

French concerns revolve around centrifuge numbers, the sunset clause, and verification. Verification may prove particularly problematic in the coming days, given the WSJ scoop on PMDs: the Americans are prepared to allow Iran to put off full disclosure of its nuclear infrastructure until after sanctions relief has been granted. This is an old idea that had been put aside because it has the feel of being incoherent: the Iranians are stonewalling IAEA inspectors now while they’re under sanctions pressure; it’s difficult to understand why they’d stop stonewalling after that pressure is lifted.

Meanwhile the statement that drove last night and this morning came from a senior State Department official: “We’re at that point in the negotiations where we really need to see decisions being made. We will test whether that is truly possible over the next several days.” The quote was duly reported as putting the onus on the Iranians – it was the nut graph of yesterday’s CNN post (http://www.cnn.com/2015/03/27/politics/iran-nuclear-talks-kerry-zarif/index.html) – but over here it was read even more definitively. It’s being talked about as a signal that the Americans have more or less made their offer, and now it’s time for the Iranians to accept or decline.

If that holds then the reporting today is going to be slow – no more monster scoops about new collapses – and people will have time to discuss how any deal is going to play back in Washington. The conventional wisdom as of this morning:

The political debate – there’s a growing sense that the Fordow concession revealed by the AP – which would allow the Iranians to run hundreds of centrifuges in their fortified underground military bunker – is going to be a political hurdle for the Obama administration. Even some analysts who don’t think it’s substantively devastating think the administration will have difficulty explaining why it’s letting Tehran spin centrifuges in a military installation impervious to Israeli or American attack. I sent an email around a few days ago about why the administration is particularly vulnerable because of the role Fordow played in negotiations: the Americans wanted it shuttered and told everyone as much, then last spring they shifted to gutting it of centrifuges and leaving it as an R&D facility, and now this. It’s an undeniable and easily explainable collapse.

The policy debate – the direction that the policy debate will take is an open question. Some analysts will focus in a granular way on the new concessions plus whatever the sunset clause turns out to be, since lifting all restrictions supercharges the danger of leaving Iran’s nuclear infrastructure unknown or intact in the meantime. In contrast to the political debate, the emphasis here will probably be more on the PMDs/disclosure concession than on Fordow, if only because disclosure is a fundamental prerequisite to everything else (how can the IAEA confirm the Iranians have given up what they’re supposed to give up, if the IAEA doesn’t know what the Iranians have).

There will also be a broader debate, especially if a deal is brought back and Congress begins debating it. Then the public discussion will in some senses begin afresh, with a renewed focus on all of the fundamental issues involved in the Obama administration’s plan for managing the Iranian nuclear program. To give you a taste of what that might look like, see below for last week’s Washington Post piece from Michael Hayden (former NSA/CIA chief), Olli Heinonen (former deputy director general of the IAEA), and Ray Takeyh (senior fellow at CFR). The argument is that a one year breakout time is inadequate, because real world constraints having to do with intelligence, politics, and diplomacy mean that responding to a Iranian dash across the finish line would take more than one year.

Omri concludes on this optimistic note: “[A]s long as the other European FM’s stay away you’re safe keeping your Saturday night plans.” Reuters tentatively reports, however, that a deal may be imminent.

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