While the Obama administration has been working on massaging the potential diplomatic opening they think they’ve spotted in dealing with Iran’s (supposedly/relatively) ‘moderate’ new leader Hassan Rouhani, administration officials have also been lobbying Congress to hold off on imposing more sanctions on behalf of nurturing what they imagine is a more friendly, conciliatory negotiating atmosphere. Ahead of the talks between world powers and Iran in Geneva today, the administration was evidently “looking for a first step that stops Iran’s nuclear program moving forward for the first time in decades and that rolls parts of it back” in exchange for “limited, targeted and reversible sanctions relief,” according to one official. CNN reports:
Iran appears keen to progress swiftly toward a deal reining back its nuclear program in return for relief from international sanctions that have crippled its economy, a senior U.S. administration official said Wednesday.
She was speaking on the eve of a fresh round of talks scheduled for Thursday and Friday in Geneva between the five permanent — and nuclear-armed — members of the U.N. Security Council, along with Germany and Iran.
“For the first time, we believe Iran is ready to move this process forward quickly. For the first time, we’re not seeing them just use this as a way of buying time,” the senior U.S. administration official told journalists in a background briefing.
“I do see a potential for the outline of a first step. It can be written on a piece of paper or probably more than one. I hope this can be sooner rather than later,” she added, declining to answer questions whether that outline deal may be reached before the weekend.
So, in a nutshell, an initial step that may-or-may-not partially disable their imminent weapons capability in exchange for the beginnings of sanctions relief? …The Senate is apparently not impressed with this plan; Reuters reports that the Banking Committee is planning to move ahead with a package of tough new sanctions over the next week regardless of what the administration wants:
Senator Tim Johnson, the panel’s chairman, told Reuters that Harry Reid, the Senate’s Majority Leader, told him to go ahead with the mark-up – or debate – of the bill, a step toward bringing it to the full Senate for a vote.
“We’ll wait until the Geneva meeting is over with, but I talked to Harry Reid about it yesterday and he wants to mark up,” Johnson told Reuters outside the Senate chamber.
Israel, as you might imagine, isn’t really on board, either. The BBC reports that Netanyahu just warned that the plan unfolding in Geneva would be a “historic mistake”:
“Israel understands that there are proposals on the table in Geneva today that would ease the pressure on Iran for concessions that are not concessions at all. This proposal would allow Iran to retain the capabilities to make nuclear weapons,” he said.
“Israel totally opposes these proposals. I believe that adopting them would be a mistake of historic proportions. They must be rejected outright.”
“The sanctions regime has brought the Iranian economy to the edge of the abyss, and the P5+1 can compel Iran to fully dismantle its nuclear weapons programme,” he said.
“Anything else will make a peaceful solution less likely. Israel always reserves the right to defend itself, by itself, against any threat.”
If the news from Geneva is true, this is the deal of the century for #Iran.
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) November 7, 2013
Update: Uhm… what? Via the WFB: