The Iranian Nuclear Deal: Reax

Jonathan Tobin is predictably skeptical of the likely deal being forged in Geneva:

After more than a decade of diplomatic deception, the Iranians finally have what they wanted: an American president and secretary of state ready to recognize their “right” to enrich uranium and to hold on to to their nuclear fuel stockpile and to loosen sanctions in exchange for easily evaded promises. The next stop is not, as the administration may hope, a deal in six months to end the nuclear threat, but an Iran that knows that the sanctions have already begun to unravel emboldened to dig in its heels even further.

Justin Logan chides such hawks for making the perfect the enemy of the good:

[The deal is] not a complete, irreversible end of the problem posed by Iran’s nuclear program. What hawkish observers fail to understand is that there is no such solution, through diplomacy, military strikes, or otherwise. Thus the question was never whether this deal could provide Netanyahu’s desiderata: the shipping out of all enriched uranium, the destruction of Fordow and Arak, and an end to Iran’s pursuit of enrichment altogether. Nobody, perhaps even including Netanyahu thought that was possible. Given his various public statements, Netanyahu seemed to think any deal was a bad deal. So yes, it’s not time to pop champagne corks and forget the world, nor time to throw a tantrum. A prospective interim deal would be a small, but very important, step in the right direction. Given the disaster that would be a war in Iran, we should take this small step and see if it can be built on.

Larison wonders if Netanyahu will harm Israel’s international standing by rejecting the deal:

As Robert Farley and I discussed yesterday, there are three reasons why Israeli officials would publicly attack negotiations with Iran. The first is that they assume that any deal will be unacceptable to them, and are therefore writing off the negotiating process ahead of time. The second is that they want to keep public pressure on to make the deal as tolerable as possible, and the third is that they don’t need to take a risk in endorsing a deal no matter what it involves.

Some combination of the first and third reasons probably explains what Netanyahu thinks he’s doing, but he and his government may be underestimating the danger of isolating Israel on the one issue where Israel enjoys some broader international sympathy. Rejecting the deal out of hand before it has even been finalized gives the U.S. and European governments little reason to listen to Israeli complaints, since the latter are not going to be realistically satisfied, and that will make them much less sympathetic to any Israeli reaction to the deal.

Drum insists the Israeli PM has a credibility issue:

Netanyahu has made it clear that he’s just flatly opposed to any plausible bargain at all. His idea of a deal is that Iran first destroys its entire nuclear infrastructure and then—maybe—sanctions should be eased or lifted. This is pretty plainly not a deal that any national leader in his right mind would ever accept, and Netanyahu knows it. So he’s essentially saying that no deal should ever be made with Iran. Given an attitude like that, who’s going to take him seriously? Nobody. Add to that an unending string of personal affronts against President Obama, and it’s a credit to Obama’s self-control that he’s still willing to talk to Netanyahu at all.

But Max Fisher warns observers not to underestimate Bibi’s power, arguing that he “might be able to exert real leverage over the Iranian talks at perhaps their most vulnerable point: the U.S. Congress”:

Many lawmakers, particularly but not exclusively Republicans, are beginning to rally around the idea that any sanctions relief would be dangerous and requires their opposition. It doesn’t hurt that appearing tough on Iran is a politically popular position that poses few risks for lawmakers and substantial benefit. Keep in mind that according to public opinion polls, Americans hold highly negative views of Iran. In addition, lawmakers have been denouncing the Obama administration over Middle East policy for years. …

This is where Netanyahu could play a major role, and potentially scuttle any nuclear deal with Iran, should one emerge from Geneva. Sanctions relief will be controversial in Congress, and Republican lawmakers will try to draw as much attention to the issue as possible so as to rally public opposition. What they lack is a public face to put on their campaign. Netanyahu can provide that: He is popular in the United States and has demonstrated a flair for rallying Congress. He’s also not particularly shy about criticizing the diplomatic outreaches with Tehran. If Netanyahu continues arguing against an Iranian deal, and particularly if he does so in a way that’s crafted to resonate in any domestic American debate, he could make the Obama administration’s task in Congress much harder.

Meanwhile, Ian Black considers the view from Iran:

In the Islamic Republic, the key to momentum will be sufficiently tangible economic improvements to build up the popular support Rouhani needs to bolster his position vis-a-vis diehard conservatives and the Revolutionary Guards, imbued with decades of suspicion towards the US, the West and their Arab allies. The continuing confrontation over the war in Syria, where Tehran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah back Bashar al-Assad to the hilt while the Saudis support the Sunni rebels, has been a vivid reminder of Iran’s regional reach and influence. For the moment though, Rouhani appears to enjoy the backing of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has urged critics “not to consider our negotiators as compromisers.”

Hardliners there have been quiet, but not silent:

As US Secretary of State John Kerry and other foreign ministers of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany (P5+1) arrive in Geneva in what is being viewed as positive developments in the nuclear negotiations with Iran, most Iranian media have given the latest developments straightforward coverage. Even the most hard-line outlets have not shown a strong reaction to what appears to be the beginning steps of an initial interim deal between Iran and the P5+1.

However, Fars News and Raja News both ran an article by [hardline Iranian analyst Mehdi] Mohammadi titled “Warning about repeating the Reformist experience in the new round of negotiations.” Under Reformist president Mohammad Khatami in 2003, Iran agreed to suspend much of its nuclear activity in an agreement with the EU-3 (Germany, France and Britain). Those negotiations were led by Hassan Rouhani, who was the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council at the time. Iran’s top negotiator today, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, was also part of the 2003 negotiation team. After failing to reach a more permanent arrangement, Iran resumed its nuclear activity in 2005, just before President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took office. Mohammadi wrote, “The biggest threat in the Geneva negotiations is that we repeat the history of the 2003 to 2005 negotiations.”

Stephen Walt looks ahead:

Which side will win? I don’t know, but I do think this is a winnable fight for Obama if he tries. If the negotiators in Geneva can reach an agreement that 1) avoids war, 2) reduces Iran’s incentive for a bomb, 3) moves them further from the nuclear threshold, and 4) strengthens the already-tough inspections regime, and presents it to the American people as a done deal, I think the public will support it strongly. …

The rest of the P5+1 will be ecstatic (except maybe Russia and China, because they benefit from the United States and Iran being at odds), and they will be making supportive noises as well. Hardline opponents won’t be able to attack the deal without engaging in transparently obvious special pleading, partly on behalf of a country that already has nuclear weapons and hasn’t been all that cooperative lately. Under these circumstances, some of those diehard opponents in Congress might think twice about killing the deal, because their fingerprints would be all over the murder weapon. Indeed, that may be why they are now proposing new sanctions: better to kill the diplomatic process before it produces results than to try to discredit a reasonable deal later on.