How much of a sham is the “deal”? This much:
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Thursday he neither backed nor rejected an interim accord with six world powers on Tehran’s disputed nuclear program but demanded all sanctions be lifted immediately once a final agreement was concluded.
He added in a televised speech that the details of the accord would be decisive, and the publication of a US fact sheet showing terms that were at variance with the Iranian view of the agreement showed “devilish” US intentions…
“The White House put out a statement just a few hours after our negotiators finished their talks…this statement, which they called a ‘fact sheet’, was wrong on most of the issues.”
Iran’s foreign ministry made the same claim yesterday, raising the question of how a “framework” deal can be said to exist when the two sides clearly don’t agree on even basic terms like sanctions. Could be that the U.S. fact sheet is, or was, accurate in stating what Iran promised in Switzerland and now the Iranians have buyer’s remorse. Or it could be that Khamenei’s right and that the White House “fact sheet” deliberately misrepresented what Iran promised in order to make the deal easier for Obama to spin. Any evidence of the latter being true? Actually, yes:
American officials acknowledge that they did not inform the Iranians in advance of all the “parameters” the United States would make public in an effort to lock in progress made so far, as well as to strengthen the White House’s case against any move by members of Congress to impose more sanctions against Iran.
“We talked to them and told them that we would have to say some things,” said a senior administration official who could not be identified under the protocol for briefing reporters. “We didn’t show them the paper. We didn’t show them the whole list.”
The official acknowledged that it was “understood that we had different narratives, but we wouldn’t contradict each other.”
That last bit makes it sound like there’s no disagreement between the two sides on the actual terms, just differences in how the deal will be spun. The White House would emphasize increased inspections of Iran’s nuke facilities and a longer “breakout” period for Iran to get the bomb, Iran would emphasize the fact that 5,000 centrifuges will keep spinning and all of their current nuclear sites will remain online. Watch the first minute or so in the clip below from Iranian state media, though, and you’ll see that the differences aren’t merely cosmetic. Khamenei’s demanding that all sanctions be lifted immediately after a final deal is struck in June. The U.S. “fact sheet” says the opposite — that sanctions relief will happen if and when Iran “verifiably abides by its commitments” under the deal. In other words, they have to move first by taking centrifuges offline, allowing inspectors in, etc, before they get any economic relief. And in fairness to the White House, Iran seemed to understand that as of a week ago: Javad Zarif, their lead nuke negotiator, told reporters in Switzerland that sanctions would be lifted once the UN verified that Iran had implemented the nuclear steps laid out in the deal. Either Khamenei didn’t know that Zarif had made that concession and is now trying to back out or he did know and is pretending that Iran never agreed to delayed sanctions relief as a negotiation tactic, to see if he can soften up the U.S. and European countries to speed up lifting of sanctions under the final deal.
Does Obama have any room politically to let Iran soften him up on this point, though? The public supports negotiations, but they’re under no illusions about why we need to verify Iran’s compliance before giving them what they want::
Not a good poll for O. And given that this long kabuki is mainly about making military action against Iran politically impossible, not about keeping Iran from building a bomb, this is really not a good poll for him:
Exit question: If Khamenei’s merely bluffing here to try to speed sanctions up rather than stating a dealbreaking condition of a final agreement, how exactly does he climb down from this later if need be? He’s on camera insisting that sanctions must be lifted as soon as the final deal is struck. He’s the supreme leader of a clerical regime founded on the principle of “death to America”; he can’t say he compromised with the Great Satan on a matter as important to Iranians as when their economy should be restored to health. There’s no way for him to walk this back now without losing face personally, which, I would assume, is the last thing a figure like him would want to do. Is this a dealbreaker then?