Goodnight Vienna

The parties have returned to Vienna to wrap up the imminent nuclear deal with Iran. Why not Munich? It would be more fitting, but Vienna signifies in its own way.

John Lennon contributed the title song to Ringo Starr for Ringo’s 1974 album Goodnight Vienna. As a result, I have come to understand that the phrase Goodnight Vienna is English slang for “it’s all over.” So “Goodnight Vienna” it is.

Drawing on Jay Solomon’s page-one Wall Street Journal story “Secret dealings with Iran led to nuclear talks” (June 29, accessible here via Google) and the Klapper/Lee AP story “Once unheard of, US-Iran talks are the new normal” (June 27), Omni Ceren (on Twitter @cerenomri) reports from the scene by email:

Good morning from Vienna, where Zarif is back and talks have resumed. He either has the Supreme Leader’s permission to sign a deal or he doesn’t, and there’s not much left in between. The Americans have publicly collapsed on most of what was left vague at Lausanne – immediate cash windfalls, a robust inspection regime including military sites, full Iranian disclosure of its nuclear program – and are willing to shred the sanctions regime by redefining non-nuclear sanctions as nuclear so they can be lifted. The rest should be just details.

That said, morning meetings just began a couple hours ago, so news won’t begin to trickle out for a while.

In the meantime, [Jay Solomon’s] scoop-filled WSJ story [linked above] is the second huge article from the last few days outlining how the Obama administration very, very quietly sought to secure rapprochement with Iran. A few days ago the AP assessed that cozy US-Iran talks have become the “new normal” despite White House assurances that it distrusts the Iranians. Now this WSJ story reveals that the administration began making concessions to Tehran – aimed at achieving exactly that result – from day 1. The President’s outreach included releasing Iranian arms dealers and blacklisting organizations that the Iranians considered hostile:

Iran secretly passed to the White House beginning in late 2009 the names of prisoners it wanted released from U.S. custody, part of a wish list to test President Barack Obama’s commitment to improving ties and a move that set off years of clandestine dispatches that helped open the door to nuclear negotiations. The secret messages… included a request to blacklist opposition groups hostile to Iran and increase U.S. visas for Iranian students, according to officials familiar with the matter. The U.S. eventually acceded to some of the requests… With a deal in sight, some worry the U.S. will give up too much without getting significant concessions in return. The Obama administration initially called for an end to Tehran’s nuclear fuel production, a dismantling of many of its facilities and a rollback of its missile program—goals that have been dropped…Over the past six years, U.S. allies in the Mideast say, Iran has expanded its influence in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Now, they say, Tehran is set to maintain much of its nuclear infrastructure, while scoring an economic windfall.

The story will be get added to the list of things the administration has been willing to sacrifice in pursuit of its nuclear deal with Iran. That list already included:

China expansionism: Last week the NYT reported that the Obama administration has been loath to pressure China on a range of issues because they need the Chinese on Iran.
Russia expansionism: Articles have been circulating since 2014 suggesting the same thing is going on with Russia, and that Obama has taken a soft line on Ukraine because he needs the Russians on Iran (even Roger Cohen (!) rushed last November to editorialize against what he called the Iran-Ukraine tradeoff).
Middle East alliances: Differences over the Iran deal have badly undermined Washington’s traditional alliances with Jerusalem and Riyadh.
Syria/U.S. WMD credibility: The President declined to enforce his Syria red line against the reintroduction of weapons of mass destruction to modern battlefields, shredding the U.S.’s nonproliferation credibility and leaving the French seething in the process. Administration spokespeople have been left trying to convince reporters that chlorine bombs don’t count.
IAEA credibility: The IAEA has been kneecapped as the P5+1 global powers moved to conclude a deal with Iran, a country that still owes the agency answers on a dozen unresolved questions.
UN sanctions credibility: The U.S. has looked the other way while the Iranians busted through binding U.N. sanctions and has ceased providing information to a U.N. panel charged with monitoring the integrity of the U.N.’s sanction regime.
Iranian human rights: Obama administration officials kept the Green Revolution at arm’s length so as not to inflame Tehran’s paranoia about regime change.
Congress/Democrats: The President and his allies have repeatedly clashed with Congress, including with Congressional Democrats, over Iran diplomacy. There have been two full-blown media campaigns, each lasting several weeks, in which sitting Democratic lawmakers were accused of being warmongers beholden to Jewish money. Versions of those accusations came from administration spokespeople talking to reporters from White House and State Department podiums.

All of this happened while administration officials assured Congress that they were committed to constraining Iran. As the WSJ article points out, they went so far as to flat out deny that prisoner swaps were taking place. And as the AP article pointed out, today they’re cozier with the Iranians on nuclear issues than they are with the U.S.’s traditional Middle East allies.

Lawmakers will have the obvious concern: given that administration officials have sacrificed so much to cobble together even a weak agreement, it seems unlikely that they would identify and respond to Iranian violations of a final deal. It’s all they have left.