No deal, yet (thanks to France): "First step" discussions with Iran to continue in the coming weeks

About the time that Secretary of State John Kerry suddenly decided to fly to Geneva at the end of the week to join in with the marathon round of negotiations going on between the world’s power players and Iran, there were reports of an imminent deal about a “first step” or “startup deal” in which Iran would ostensibly commit to some kind of nuclear comedown in return for, ahem, “limited, targeted, and reversible” sanctions relief. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately made it clear that the deal under discussion was a “bad deal — a very, very bad deal,” but as the talks wrapped up on Saturday night/early Sunday morning, it appears that whatever deal was in the works is still unresolved and is going to have to wait for another round of diplomatic discussion. The BBC reports that negotiations are currently set to resume on November 20th:


Talks between world powers and Iran have failed to reach an agreement on Tehran’s nuclear programme.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told a press conference that there had been a lot of “concrete progress but some differences remain”. …

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said he was not disappointed with the outcome, and that the talks were “something we can build on”.

He said all parties were “on the same wavelength” and “there was the impetus to reach an agreement”.

Meanwhile US Secretary of State John Kerry said: “There is no question in my mind that we are closer now than we were before.”

Official spokespeople were demure about saying exactly who it was that put a kink in the works, preferring to stick with the ‘consensus-building’ and ‘progress-making’ tacks, but evidently it was the French who actually pumped the brakes on this thing. Via the AP:

France raised questions Saturday about whether a proposed deal to temporarily curb Iran’s nuclear program went far enough, complicating negotiations with the Iranians and casting doubt on whether an agreement could be reached during the current round of negotiations.

.. He said earlier that the French were holding out for conditions on the Iranians tougher than those agreed to by the U.S. and France’s other negotiating partners, diminishing hopes of a done deal Saturday. …

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius spoke of “several points that … we’re not satisfied with compared to the initial text,” telling France-Inter Radio his country did not want to be part of a “con game.”

He did not specify, but his comments suggested France thought a final draft of any first-step deal was too favorable to Iran. Concerns also were raised by Israel and a number of prominent figures in the U.S. Congress. …


So, with France still in his corner in thwarting the Obama administration’s rush to play let’s-make-a-deal, Netanyahu’s biggest chance for riling up support now is by turning to his allies in Congress to try and block the White House’s maneuvering — but many of them are already several steps ahead on that front, via Foreign Policy:

“You’re going to see the dam break loose when the details of this come out,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Il), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told The Cable. “The White House is going to take a lot of friendly fire.”

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), who has been generally supportive of the administration’s diplomatic push, raised concern about how far the administration might go. “I am deeply troubled by reports that such an agreement may not require Tehran to halt its enrichment efforts,” he said. “In addition, I forcefully reject any notion that Iran has a ‘right’ to enrichment, a view which the administration has publicly articulated on numerous occasions.”

Texas Senator Ted Cruz slammed the reported deal as “dangerous for America.”

“It appears that this ‘deal’ does not require Iran to dismantle even a single centrifuge or turn over even a single pound of enriched uranium,” he said in a statement.

The Senate Banking Committee is poised to start marking up a new round of further sanctions, a plan already heartily endorsed by the House over the summer; Harry Reid wanted to wait to start that process until after this round of Geneva talks was over, but regardless of the further-talks-are-necessary outcome in Switzerland, I wouldn’t think the hawks are likely to be deterred.


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