The Benefits Of Quiet Diplomacy


Joshua Keating is, like me, grateful the shutdown has been drowning out coverage of our negotiations with Iran:

Thanks to the government shutdown and the looming default, the news cycle this week has skewed heavily domestic, and understandably so. Somewhat lost in all this has been what is actually a pretty big foreign-policy story, the restarted Iran nuclear talks in Geneva. It’s still early to say, but while nobody’s been paying attention, the talks have been going surprisingly well. Those two things may be connected.

[Neither lifting sanctions or allowing some uranium enrichment on Iranian soil is] popular on Capitol Hill. And as Yochi Dreazen and John Hudson of Foreign Policy report, some members of Congress – some Democrats, in particular – are already signaling opposition to a deal involving lifting sanctions. But Congress has also had its attention elsewhere this week. As Rep. David Price told FP, “We’re in such a weird situation on the Hill with the shutdown and all the oxygen is pretty much going to that fight.”

It’s easy to imagine an alternative-universe scenario in which the government is not shut down, the Iran talks are front-page news, and this is a major focus of attention from Capitol Hill. It still may be tough to the White House to sell Congress on lifting sanctions, but it has to have helped lead negotiator Wendy Sherman that Congress hasn’t been setting the terms of this debate before she even sat down with the Iranians.

And as I noted last night, the talks have been remarkably cordial so far. A distracted Congress and relative quiet about the Israel-Palestine peace process is also helpful, as the invaluable Roger Cohen notes today:

For almost three months now Israelis and Palestinians have been negotiating peace in U.S.-brokered talks. They have been doing so in such quiet that the previous sentence may seem startling. Nobody is leaking. Because expectations are low, spoilers are quiescent. There is a feeling nobody opposed to a resolution need lift a finger because the talks will fail all on their own. This is good. Absent discretion, diplomacy dies.

I think we’re going to get a deal that precludes a war against Iran and begins a period of constructive engagement and detente with the theocracy in Tehran. There’s still a lot to get nailed down and verified, and there are powerful forces in both countries determined to prevent a deal (the Revolutionary Guards, AIPAC and religious fanatics in Iran’s and America’s reddest states among them) but both recently elected governments in Washington and Tehran have a huge amount riding on success.

Avoiding another war in the Middle East – and the wave of murderous Jihadism and polarization that would provoke – is, to my mind, the most important foreign policy goal of the next three years. The second most important? A two-state solution in Israel/Palestine. Domestic drama – and a new constellation of forces in the Middle East, as Cohen explains – may help Obama secure both.

Am I delusional? Maybe. But the coalition of countries behind the negotiations with Iran, combined with the unexpectedly successful chemical weapons suppression and destruction in Syria, has isolated Netanyahu even more acutely in the world, as his political position at home remains tenuous.

You know who he reminds me of – threatening to upend global peace and break the US-Israel alliance by a unilateral attack? Ted Cruz.

(Photo: US Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman (right) smiles at the start of two days of closed-door nuclear talks in Geneva October 15. By Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)