We’ve got to deal seriously with the twin threats of ISIL and a nuclear Iran #Opp4All pic.twitter.com/sgm3ZbWhso
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) January 12, 2015
While Secretary Kerry and Iran’s minister of foreign affairs, Mohammad Zarif, met in Geneva to continue their pursuit of a nuclear deal, Josh Rogin reports on the new GOP-led Senate:
The final language for the updated Iran sanctions bill by Republican Mark Kirk and Democrat Robert Menendez was agreed on this week, according to several lawmakers and senior staffers in both parties. The bill, which both senators want to pass as soon as possible, would impose several escalating rounds of increased sanctions on the Iranian economy that would begin on June 30 — but only if Iran fails to sign on the dotted line of any negotiated agreement or fails to live up to whatever it stipulates.
The Obama team has made it clear they oppose Congress voting on a new law before the negotiations are complete, even though the actual sanctions implementation would be delayed. The new Republican Senate leadership, however, is committed to moving forward, setting up a political brawl that could peak just as the negotiations enter their crucial final stages. … [Bob Corker, the new chair of Foreign Relations,] is preparing his own legislation that would mandate that the Senate vote on a joint resolution of disapproval of any final nuclear deal with Iran. He feels this is necessary in case the White House decides not to designate any new Iran pact a “treaty,” and thus avoid a ratification process in the Senate.
Larison responds to newly minted senator Tom Cotton’s remark that the US needs to make our military threats to Iran “more credible”:
Hawks imagine that Tehran sees Washington as weak vacillating when Iranian leaders have consistently perceived the U.S. as an extraordinarily powerful, menacing, and implacable foreign power. The Iranians are the ones caught in the bind of having to appease Washington or potentially face even more serious consequences. Our threats are not doubted. It is our pledges not to strike that so few believe, and after the last fifteen years it is no surprise. … Of course, hard-liners everywhere always assume that the other regime in any negotiation is getting the upper hand, because that is what being a hard-liner requires, but it makes for appallingly bad “analysis.”
And doing their part, the hardliners in Iran are still attacking President Rouhani over his administration’s continued push for a deal. Roger Einhorn believes one is still possible, but it won’t be easy:
[W]hile the Republican-controlled Congress will undoubtedly give the administration a tough time, it is likely that President Obama will be able, without legislative interference, to continue negotiating an agreement that he believes is in the U.S. interest. … [T]he domestic obstacles are more formidable on the Iranian side. Iran’s failure to show sufficient flexibility over the last year on the central issues in the nuclear negotiations has raised questions not just about its willingness to reach a balanced agreement but also, given internal divisions, its ability to do so. The answer to the question of whether Iran is capable of reaching a nuclear agreement lies with the Supreme Leader. If he is prepared to overcome his own reservations, overrule hardline opponents of a deal, and give his negotiators the green light to work out the necessary compromises, there can be an agreement. If not, there will be no deal.
Potentially making matters worse for the US side, Rouhani just announced that Iran would be building two more reactors in the country’s southern province of Bushehr. Jonathan Tobin pounces:
The supposed moderate [Rouhani] claimed that this shows that Iran was only interested in peaceful uses of nuclear power, but the massive investment in nuclear infrastructure for a country with some of the largest oil reserves in the world is inherently suspicious. Western intelligence agencies have already conceded that they have little confidence about their ability to detect any secret military nuclear programs hidden throughout the country. The decision to build more expensive nuclear plants at a time when the country is financially pressed demonstrates that their commitment to expanding their capability is about more than clean energy.
We can’t know exactly what the Iranians are up to in Bushehr. But the brazen nature of this effort while they continue to stall the Geneva talks speaks volumes about their belief that they can tell the Americans anything they like and still expect Kerry to keep crawling back to see them in the vain hope that next time they’ll gratify his zeal for a deal.
Meanwhile, it’s the price of oil that may be having the biggest effect on ordinary Iranians:
The nosedive in global crude oil prices to around $50 a barrel places additional strain on next year’s state budget, which reckoned with a projected rate of $72 per barrel. The budget for this fiscal year, which ends in March, assumes a rate of $100 per barrel. While the general population has yet to feel the impact of the resulting spending cuts, it makes for foreboding news at the currency bazaars as well as supermarkets.