The Iranian Rubik’s Cube, Ctd

Hooman Majd made important points about the US-Iranian negotiations while they were still ongoing:

Iran and the United States hadn’t talked for five hours in the past thirty-four years. We’ll have to wait to find out whether this is a historic moment, or merely another lost opportunity. But it seems improbable that the Americans and Iranians would make such a production of these talks without some real confidence that signing on the dotted line is within reach. Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, took to Twitter to emphasize his support for the negotiations and his negotiators, whom he called “children of the #Revolution”—suggesting that hardliners in Tehran would have a difficult time sabotaging an agreement. …

As of Saturday night, it looked like it would take at least one more round of talks to reach a breakthrough. Members of the Iranian delegation indicated that the objections to signing a draft agreement came from the other side, but suggested that the remaining gaps looked too great to overcome in the few hours remaining. Zarif repeated what he had said before these discussions began—that it “wouldn’t be a disaster” if a deal was not signed this weekend.

Reza Marashi makes similar arguments:

One did not have to be in Geneva to see the obvious: more progress was made over the past three days than in the past three decades combined.

The importance of this breakthrough must be contextualized: Compare negotiations under Iran’s former chief nuclear negotiation Saeed Jalili to Foreign Minister Zarif’s current stewardship. It’s night and day, and the metric of success is now clear. The bedrock of these negotiations rests upon a simple but vital premise: It is in the interest of both sides to develop a peaceful solution to the U.S.-Iran conflict, and diplomacy is the only viable pathway that bridges status-quo mistrust to future cooperation.

To that end, both sides acknowledge — and are working to contain — the very real presence of spoilers who seek to maintain or exacerbate a negative trajectory in relations. “We’re not in the business of doing favors,” a Western diplomat told me, smiling. “We’re in the business of pursuing our interests.”However, no less important have been the forces for moderation that do not believe Washington and Tehran need one another as an enemy. As talks concluded, Foreign Minister Zarif and Secretary both emphasized their belief that progress was made and a deal can be reached.

Patrick Brennan’s assessment is much more pessimistic:

Kerry claims he was proud of the work that negotiators accomplished in Geneva this week, but it looks like the parties came to the table remarkably far apart, without any realistic framework for a deal. But the Security Council has passed multiple resolutions demanding that Iran halt its enrichment activities, while Iran’s players seem united in demanding that the deal include a provision explicitly recognizing the country’s right to do so. The International Atomic Energy Agency says there is now a “framework” for a deal with Iran that negotiators will try to iron out over the next three months, but this isn’t what the Obama administration was hoping for — they wanted an agreement on a six-month freeze in enrichment activities, which would then provide time to agree on a broader deal. Now, instead, Iran’s activities will continue unmolested, even if the IAEA’s framework proves useful over the coming months.

Kenneth Pollack notes that any deal will require sidelining Iran’s hard-liners:

We’ve never seen Khamenei actually overrule the hard-liners on an issue of this kind of importance. We’ve seen [previous supreme leader Ruhollah] Khomeini do it, famously, at the end of the Iran-Iraq War. The hard-liners wanted to keep fighting, and [later-president Hashemi] Rafsanjani and the pragmatists wanted to end it. In the end, although he said it was more bitter to him than “drinking poison,” Khomeini agreed to overrule the hard-liners. We haven’t seen that with Khamenei.

Larison argues that France, which derailed the negotiations according to some reports, has made a major mistake:

Iran hawks in the U.S. are predictably pleased with French interference, but no one else should be fooled into thinking that France has done itself or other Western countries any favors. It can’t be emphasized enough that Western actions that block an agreement with Iran on the nuclear issue benefits no one except Iran hawks and Iranian hard-liners, since it makes it more difficult to resolve the issue through diplomacy, and that in turn makes both armed conflict and a nuclear-armed Iran more likely. Perversely, France has given Iran an opening to agree to fewer concessions than it otherwise would have, and by demanding so much in the first stage France has made it less likely that Iran will agree to anything.

Juan Cole echoes:

France can’t possibly want no agreement (unlike Israel), and presumably there must be a way to satisfy Hollande in a confidence-building initial proposal. It may also be that Paris will feel so much heat from everyone else in Europe that they will moderate their hard line.

One thing France must keep in mind is that hawks in Washington actively want a war with Iran, and that if there is no agreement now, that war will be on the front burner if a Republican comes to power in 2017. Since the French opposed the Iraq War and have been traumatized by their participation in Afghanistan, presumably they don’t want to give the American Right such a luscious opportunity, which won’t in the end benefit French interests in the Middle East.

And Scott McConnell leafs through the history books:

France’s relations with Israel have been at least slightly chilly since de Gaulle denounced what he (correctly) perceived as Israel’s desire to hold onto the territory it captured in the 1967 war.  Before that, however, France was Israel’s largest arms supplier and helped get Israel’s clandestine nuclear weapons program off the ground in the 1950s. With Israel and Great Britain, France invaded Egypt in the 1956 Suez Canal crisis, hoping to topple Nasser and cut off aid to the Algerian rebels. The Clash of Civilizations—the fear-inspiring “Islamofascism” narrative—did not originate with Sam Huntington, or American or Israeli neoconservatives, but with French intellectuals trying to bolster international support for their colonial war in Algeria. So it would not surprise me if French strategists imagined a kind of Paris-Tel Aviv-Riyadh triple alliance, unlikely as it sounds, but not much more unlikely than the alliance of Republican France and Tsarist Russia which set the table for World War I.

My thoughts on the Geneva fallout here.