British foreign minister: We're hoping to produce a "narrative" from these Iran nuke talks, not a written agreement

This is where I remind you that our president has staked every ounce of what’s left of his foreign-policy credibility on the essential trustworthiness of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Your quote of the year courtesy of an unnamed State Department official:

“The truth is, you can dwell on Yemen, or you can recognize that we’re one agreement away from a game-changing, legacy-setting nuclear accord on Iran that tackles what every one agrees is the biggest threat to the region.”

You can be an eeyore and mope over the fact that Syria’s a pile of rubble, Yemen and Libya are headed for Mad-Max-style anarchy, Iraq is now divided between Shiite death squads and a Wahhabist Fourth Reich, and the region as a whole is on the brink of all-out sectarian war backed by Saudi Arabia and Iran. Or you can put on a happy face and pretend that this piece-of-sh*t Iran deal, which is going to end up making all of the conflicts I just mentioned worse, is some sort of new Treaty of Westphalia. One minor difference between this deal and that deal, though: Westphalia was actually written down.

“We envisage being able to deliver a narrative. Whether that is written down or not, I don’t think is the crucial issue,” [British Foreign Minister Philip] Hammond told reporters at the British ambassador’s residence during a visit to Washington. “This will be a political statement, or perhaps political statements from the [negotiating partners] and Iran which create enough momentum to make it clear that we’ve now got this boulder over the hill and we are into the detailed work to produce an agreement.”…

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has said he sees no need for a written document describing an interim agreement in advance of the June 30 deadline for a comprehensive deal…

“The challenge is: as soon as you write anything down, you’ve got to write everything down,” Hammond said.

There are two deadlines coming up. The first, this coming Tuesday, is the deadline for a “framework” for the final deal; the second, on June 30th, is the deadline for the final deal itself. Conveniently enough, the west’s position on the framework now mirrors Khamenei’s position — i.e. meaningful accountability in the form of concrete written commitments would be … unhelpful at this stage. Two days ago, a European diplomat told the NYT, “All of us are in agreement that you don’t make oral deals with Iran.” And yet that’s what we’re about to do, at least with respect to the broad outlines of the agreement.

Makes me wonder if certain key parts of the final deal in June will also be left unwritten, or written with such scrupulous vagueness that both sides can interpret the terms going forward in the most self-serving way possible. In fact, that’s already happened: Believe it or not, the interim agreement signed by the U.S. and Iran in 2013 was so vague even on something as crucial as Iran’s right to enrich uranium that the two sides came away with contradictory readings of that clause. The agreement clearly recognizes our right to enrich in two separate places, cried Iran; no way, replied John Kerry, it’s very clear that there’s no right to enrich. We’re in store for more of that next week and in June because it’s more important to the White House at this point to reach even a bad, intentionally vague deal with loopholes Iran can exploit in the future than to walk away and let all of its negotiations go for naught. What Hammond’s telling you about “narratives” in the excerpt above is really a sneak preview of the next decade of the Iran nuke kabuki — endless squabbling between the west and Iran over the meaning of particular provisions and how much they limit Tehran’s program, all while Iran quietly builds out its bomb infrastructure behind the scenes. That’s why the magic words in that horrible quote up top from the State Department lackey are “legacy-setting.” Getting this deal done is Obama’s last chance to build any kind of legacy on foreign policy that historians might admire. The irony is, when it’s done playing out years from now, it’ll be his biggest foreign-policy failure in hindsight.

As I write this, the Times of Israel is reporting that a framework agreement will be reached by Tuesday that’ll keep 6,100 Iranian centrifuges spinning (the previous number floated was 6,500) with no deal yet on what happens to Iran’s other centrifuges or its uranium stockpile. Will Iran be forced to disclose the full extent of its nuclear infrastructure so that UN inspectors know exactly what they have and haven’t given up? That’s also unclear right now but the tea leaves don’t look good. Exit quotation from an Israeli official: “The deal is bad because of its readiness to remove sanctions without any American demand from Iran to stop the terror… This is incomprehensible.”