You can choose to believe it or not as you prefer, but it seems that Iran is claiming that they will begin unwinding some of their nuclear weapons program on January 20th. This from CNN.

Save the date: Iran has pledged to start eliminating some of its uranium stockpile on January 20, the White House said Sunday.

That gives an official start date for the six-month interim deal with Iran, which was first announced in November.

“As of that day, for the first time in almost a decade, Iran’s nuclear program will not be able to advance, and parts of it will be rolled back, while we start negotiating a comprehensive agreement to address the international community’s concerns about Iran’s program,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement Sunday.

As part of the agreement, Iran has agreed to start eliminating its stockpile of higher levels of enriched uranium, to dismantle some infrastructure that makes higher-level uranium enrichment possible, and not to start up additional centrifuges.

In exchange, some sanctions against Iran will be eased as part of “modest relief,” the White House said.

That “modest relief” is apparently in the form of $4.2B in frozen assets to be released in a series of payments stretching over six months. Is this worth believing on any level? Dr. James Joyner apparently suggests caution, but doesn’t see it as entirely without hope.

Now, it should go without saying, Iran’s pledging to do something and their doing it are not the same thing. Indeed, even Kerry, the architect of the deal, is highly wary and rightly so.

Caveats notwithstanding, however, this has to be viewed as a major diplomatic coup for Kerry and the Obama administration. Few of us thought Iran would voluntarily roll back its program. In my own case, it wasn’t a function of simply distrusting a ruthless regime that has from its outset viewed the United States as evil. Rather, it’s very much in the interest of both the Iranian state and the mullahs to acquire nuclear weapons to bolster their security and prestige and there didn’t appear to be anything the United States or the international community could offer by way of a carrot that would be more valuable. Sanctions relief, while obviously of great value to the people of Iran, certainly didn’t seem to be that highly prized by the regime.

This entire story puts the US in a rather odd position on the world stage. As Erika reported yesterday, Congress appears to be moving closer and closer to ignoring these negotiations entirely and introducing new sanctions on Iran, even as Kerry and Obama are dangling a carrot in front of Iran to gain concessions. If we are to assume that Iran’s entire motivation to even give the appearance of backing down on their nuclear ambitions is to get some of the sanctions removed, such an action would undoubtedly put the brakes on whatever dismantling they claim to be starting.

Is this a serious offer by Iran or just a chess move to put a halt to Congress moving against them? Taking Iran at their word is dubious at best, but it does highlight the fractured nature of the current US administration. Traditionally, the executive branch would take the lead on these sorts of maneuvers, but they’d have gotten some back room, tacit agreement from the legislative branch before doing it. This just seems to advertise to the world that Barack Obama is not in control of his own foreign policy.