Goodnight Vienna (8)

July 9 was a significant date from the standpoint of the review act passed by Congress this spring. A deal presented to Congress by July 9 would have been subject to a 30-day review period. A deal presented to Congress now is subject to a 60-day review period. Omni Ceren reports by email from Vienna:

Happy Friday from Vienna, where a deadline extension wasn’t supposed to happen again, but did.

On Wednesday afternoon there were rumors that a European diplomat told journalists from his country that the deal was technically finished, and just required political will from the Americans and Iranians. On Wednesday evening there was a phone call between President Obama and his negotiating team, which produced a readout very much like the one that preceded the Lausanne announcement. On Thursday morning Iranian and Russian negotiators started announcing that a deal was impending, and one of Iran’s Twitter PR accounts started floating possible guest invites for a coming ceremony.

Then some meetings happened. Then Iran’s state-owned Fars outlet announced there would be a four-day extension of the [ineterim] JPOA. Then Secretary of State John Kerry announced that talks were being indefinitely extended, though he added that they would not be extended indefinitely.

The Iranians immediately and aggressively began briefing against the Americans. They told reporters that Washington withdrew a compromise proposal for fear of making Obama look weak, and that back home Senator Corker gave optimistic statements about the talks as a kind of quid pro quo. They more broadly accused US diplomats of trying to relitigate Lausanne, a charge that the Iranians have in the past linked to disputes over Iran’s underground enrichment bunker at Fordow.

The Iranian accusations of backsliding would be easier to take seriously if they weren’t constantly and very publicly backsliding on Lausanne. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei very publicly gave a speech just a few days before the resumption of talks in Vienna in which he laid out a series of new red lines that gutted announced understandings on uranium enrichment, the sunset clause, verification, PMDs, and a couple other issues. Zarif brought those new positions with him to Vienna, and promptly had to go back to Tehran after most of them were bounced out of the room. Then he came back and the Iranians, with Russian backing, suddenly demanded an end to the UN arms embargo – another new demand.

If negotiations do collapse – and the conventional wisdom remains that they won’t – you’ll see a sort of strange blame game take place. Each side will accuse the other side of having rejected a good deal, which is expected and normal after talks fail. But at the same time each side will claim credit for having made the hard-headed decision to walk away, which is not something you see all the time.

The Obama administration will say something like “the President had always said that he wouldn’t accept a deal that didn’t meet his basic requirements, and the Iranians refused to accept what they agreed to at Lausanne, and so he ordered our negotiators to come home.”

The Iranians spin will be something like “the Supreme Leader knew all along that the Americans couldn’t be trusted to negotiate in good faith – something that he repeated in speeches every couple of months – and he ordered the negotiations to end to protect the Revolution from Western duplicity.”

Relatedly: today is Al Quds Day in Iran. This Iranian holiday, which was founded in 1979 by Ayatollah Khomeini and occurs annually on the last Friday of Ramadan, is arguably the most prominent of the days set aside on the Iranian calendar for calling for the eradication of Israel. A few years ago Khamenei used the occasion to tweet out “Israel Is A Hideous Entity In the Middle East Which Will Undoubtedly Be Annihilated.” Every year is more or less the same. Clerics give speeches, crowds respond with chants of “Death to America” and “Death to Israel,” and mobs burn American and Israeli flags. Earlier this morning Iranian journalist Sobhan Hassanvand tweeted this picture of an American flag being torched on top of an already-burned Israeli flag, right below an earlier tweet by him suggesting that progress is being made in Vienna:


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