Zarif zeroes in

Omri Ceren writes with an update on Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif’s appearance at NYU today with Washington Post columnist David Ignatius. In his remarks Zarif took an early victory lap with respect to achievement of Iran’s goals in the arrangement in process with the Obama administration. Josh Rogin reports on Zarif’s remarks for Bloomberg here.

To borrow from Mark Twain, we might say that Zarif speaks with the confidence of a Christian with four aces. Adapted to to our present circumstances, we might say he speaks with the confidence of a forthright enemy of the United States seeking concessions from Barack Obama. He’s feeling the weakness, if not the love. Omri writes:

Iranian FM Zarif was interviewed this morning in New York on a range of questions. In between extolling Iran’s democratic and human rights virtues – a theme he expanded upon over the course of several minutes – he was asked about domestic political considerations inside the United States. Bloomberg View has a good write-up of Zarif’s comments here.

The top of the piece focuses on repeated comments by Zarif declaring that the US would be forced to lift sanctions by UN resolutions, and that Congress would be powerless to stop President Obama from doing so. At one point he repeated the Iranians’ now-standard position and took the opportunity to mock Sen. Cotton: “The American president is bound by international law, whether they like it or not… You know that, maybe Senator Cotton doesn’t[.]” Another example, again about sanctions relief: “[Obama] will have to stop implementing all the sanctions, economic and financial sanctions that have been executive order and congressional. However he does it, that’s his problem.”

Lawmakers are bound to find the tone irritating – it’s generally considered poor form for diplomats from rogue authoritarian regimes to come to America and brag about hollowing out American sovereignty – but the substance of what he said may prove even more controversial. The characterizations he’s making are contrary to the White House’s factsheet on the Lausanne agreement and to what the administration has been telling lawmakers. Note that Zarif emphasized that the arrangement is all but a done deal: “How this will be done, we know the concept. The concept is these will be simultaneous.”

Sanctions removal timing — the White House insists it got the Iranians to agree to a phased approach — Zarif said the opposite: At the event, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius pointed out that according to the Obama administration’s statements, sanctions would be lifted only after the Iranians met an initial set of conditions. Zarif responded that it would take “only a few weeks” to meet those conditions and that “preparatory steps” would be taken in advance of such verification. He added: “That is the point where we take these measures, preparation for these measures, and the sanctions will be removed. How this will be done, we know the concept. The concept is these will be simultaneous.”

Sanctions snapback — the White House insists that the Iranians will be subject to a snapback of sanctions if they cheat — Zarif ridiculed the possibility: Zarif also insisted that Obama would not be able to “snap back” sanctions after they are lifted, as the White House has repeatedly claimed. And he accused the U.S. government of violating the interim agreement in various ways, including the Treasury Department having added sanctions designations on Iranians that were not related to the nuclear program. “If people are worrying about snapback, they should be worrying about the U.S. violating its obligations and us snapping back,” he said. “That is a point that the United States should be seriously concerned about. This is not a game.”

One would think an aversion to abject humiliation might kick in here some time soon.


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