Reuters Vox-splains the Iran negotiations

kerry iran

Vox-splaining, for those who don’t know, is what the doofs at Vox.com engage in. Allegedly, they are the “smartest thinkers” dealing with the “toughest questions.” They are the people who were puzzled by why Miami hasn’t expanded westward:

“I’d been interested to know what, if anything, is legally or practically preventing the city from just expanding further and further west if anyone happens to know.”

My guess: the Everglades but, hell, I don’t pretend to be one of the “smartest thinkers.”

They are also the people who discovered the bridge linking the West Bank to Gaza.

Correction: An earlier version of this post suggested there was a bridge connecting Gaza and the West Bank. Various plans to do this have been floated, but the bridge was never actually built.

Today Reuters enters the forbidding terrain of “smartest thinkers/toughest questions” territory to castigate the 47 GOP senators who told Iran that any lasting deal had to have Senate approval. Apparently they discovered this by reading some very old document that is difficult to understand.

The current round of negotiations with Iran (called the P5+1 for the makeup of the alleged “good guys” on the team: the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) began in 2006. So the state of the negotiations is well developed. At that point the article starts out on sound ground:

Knowing full well that Congress is unlikely to cooperate with the White House to relax U.S. sanctions, they have been aware from the beginning that all the Obama administration could realistically offer — at least in the agreement’s early stages — was suspending the sanctions by using the president’s waiver authority.

Keep in mind that this negotiating position is not new. It did not suddenly change after the 2014 elections.  Indeed, the text of the letter sent to Iran was caused by what the Obama administration had agreed to do as a part of the negotiations.

The synopsis of the strategy is also correct:

First, since suspension of sanctions is more reversible than their termination, the Iranians insist on maintaining sufficient leverage of their own in the form of thousands of centrifuges. Iran’s current operating enrichment capacity has limited practical use, since fuel for the country’s sole nuclear power plant in Bushehr is supplied by Russia. But Iranian leaders calculate that maintaining a meaningful enrichment capacity might deter the U.S. from reneging on its part of the bargain.

Secondly, instead of focusing on unilateral U.S. sanctions, the Iranian negotiators have gone after the UN Security Council sanctions that legitimize the American ones. The logic is that if the next U.S. president revokes the nuclear deal and tries to re-impose sanctions without the legitimacy bestowed by the UN, he/she will have a much harder time rallying international support behind enforcing the restrictions.

Thirdly, Iranian negotiators demand that a roadmap for lifting the U.S. sanctions during the agreement must be codified by a UN Security Council resolution. This would make any American infringement of it a breach of an obligation under international law. They have, moreover, indicated they intend to make the Iranian parliament’s ratification of the Additional Protocol to the Nonproliferation Treaty that provides the UN inspectors with enhanced access to nuclear sites and scientists contingent on prior legislative action in U.S. Congress to terminate some specific sanctions.

Finally, based on the supreme leader’s instructions, the Iranian negotiators are trying to tie up all ambiguities in the agreement to ensure that no aspect will be open to interpretation. Moreover, just as Washington insists on a role for the International Atomic Energy Agency to monitor Iran’s implementation of its commitments, Tehran insists on establishing a mechanism to monitor Washington’s performance on sanctions relief.

From there, the author snort Drano and takes off:

The Senate Republicans appear to have unintentionally miscalculated. Underlying their missive is an assumption that Iran somehow is a far-away place, unknown and untrustworthy, easy to use as a U.S. domestic political football. Senators may indeed feel nothing in common with Iran.

But Iran’s leaders spend every working day examining every move of the country that has done so much to cut them off from the rest of the world for the past 35 years. Letters or no letters, they thus appear to be well aware, as Ayatollah Khamenei suggested, that “governments are bound to their commitments by international laws and would not violate their obligations with a change of government.”

The Senators have thus not just handed the Iranians a rhetorical victory. They have also shown themselves less than Iran’s equal in their ability to understand their adversary.

First, Ayatolah Khamenei is simply not right. It is always funny to find supposedly literate people quoting dictators on what nations must do, especially when the dictator in question rules a nation that is a state sponsor of terror and has never adhered to international law when it that law, like against terror attacks, runs contrary to its objectives. The US is only bound by “international laws” to the extent that those “international laws” are treaties that have received the advise and consent of the the US Senate.

The senators were not communicating to Khamenei as much as they were communicating to an administration that seems to think it is imperial in its reach and powers. Those senators understand full well what Iran’s game is, and what Obama’s game is, and they are serving notice that such a deal will be very difficult to sustain. Indeed, that is exactly what [mc_name name=’Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’C001071′ ]’s bill in the Foreign Relations committee is set to forestall. Both Obama, for whom any deal with any totalitarian regime is a good deal, and the Iranians have clearly decided that they will use the more hospitable climes of the UN Security Council to effectively undercut the Senate. There the only vote that matters is that of Obama’s UN Ambassador. Any future US president would have to renege on our agreement to a UNSC resolution in order to proceed with new sanctions.  While a UNSC resolution removing UN sanctions would make the maintenance and expansion of US sanctions more difficult, such a deal would have no real impact should a US president decide to pursue that course of action.

In short, this article is simply a trip in bizarro land. The current Iranian negotiating position has been followed for nearly a decade. The letter from the 47 senators is merely a reaction to the profoundly unwise deal the administration seems hellbent on cutting and a warning to both parties, Iran and Obama, that such a deal is not worth the effort of reaching.