How the Senate Republicans’ letter gave Iran a boost in nuclear talks

March 15, 2015
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif attends Human Rights Council at UN in Geneva

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attends the 28th Session of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva, March 2, 2015. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

The 47 Republican senators who wrote to Iranian leaders this month may have believed they were sabotaging the talks on a deal on Iran’s nuclear program, hoping it would exacerbate fears in Tehran that any such deal could be reversed by the next U.S. president.

No one knows how the talks will end, or which party will win the White House next year, but Iranian leaders most likely believe it has strengthened their negotiating position. That’s because this partisan stunt was old news when it arrived in Tehran. The Iranians were fully prepared for attempts of this sort to undermine the negotiations in which they have invested so much.

Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, has spent the majority of his life in the U.S. and is intimately familiar with American politics and laws. This, combined with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s deep skepticism of U.S. intentions and trustworthiness, resulted in an Iranian negotiating strategy that has long insulated itself against the risk of Congressional upsets.

Knowing full well that Congress is unlikely to cooperate with the White House to relax U.S. sanctions, they have been aware from the beginning that all the Obama administration could realistically offer — at least in the agreement’s early stages — was suspending the sanctions by using the president’s waiver authority.

That realization had four specific consequences for Iran’s negotiating stance. First, since suspension of sanctions is more reversible than their termination, the Iranians insist on maintaining sufficient leverage of their own in the form of thousands of centrifuges. Iran’s current operating enrichment capacity has limited practical use, since fuel for the country’s sole nuclear power plant in Bushehr is supplied by Russia. But Iranian leaders calculate that maintaining a meaningful enrichment capacity might deter the U.S. from reneging on its part of the bargain.

Secondly, instead of focusing on unilateral U.S. sanctions, the Iranian negotiators have gone after the UN Security Council sanctions that legitimize the American ones. The logic is that if the next U.S. president revokes the nuclear deal and tries to re-impose sanctions without the legitimacy bestowed by the UN, he/she will have a much harder time rallying international support behind enforcing the restrictions.

Thirdly, Iranian negotiators demand that a roadmap for lifting the U.S. sanctions during the agreement must be codified by a UN Security Council resolution. This would make any American infringement of it a breach of an obligation under international law. They have, moreover, indicated they intend to make the Iranian parliament’s ratification of the Additional Protocol to the Nonproliferation Treaty that provides the UN inspectors with enhanced access to nuclear sites and scientists contingent on prior legislative action in U.S. Congress to terminate some specific sanctions.

Finally, based on the supreme leader’s instructions, the Iranian negotiators are trying to tie up all ambiguities in the agreement to ensure that no aspect will be open to interpretation. Moreover, just as Washington insists on a role for the International Atomic Energy Agency to monitor Iran’s implementation of its commitments, Tehran insists on establishing a mechanism to monitor Washington’s performance on sanctions relief.

Seen from Tehran, therefore, the letter has strengthened Iran’s negotiating position. It also gives Tehran an edge in any blame-game that would inevitably follow a still-possible failure to reach a comprehensive accord. It will now be much easier to portray U.S. demands as excessive and maximalist than it was before the letter, and before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress last week.

The Iranians also appear to know perfectly well that by further alienating the Congressional Democrats, the letter makes any future attempt to pass deal-killing legislation more likely to fall short of garnering sufficient support in the Senate to override an Obama veto.

The Senate Republicans appear to have unintentionally miscalculated. Underlying their missive is an assumption that Iran somehow is a far-away place, unknown and untrustworthy, easy to use as a U.S. domestic political football. Senators may indeed feel nothing in common with Iran.

But Iran’s leaders spend every working day examining every move of the country that has done so much to cut them off from the rest of the world for the past 35 years. Letters or no letters, they thus appear to be well aware, as Ayatollah Khamenei suggested, that “governments are bound to their commitments by international laws and would not violate their obligations with a change of government.”

The Senators have thus not just handed the Iranians a rhetorical victory. They have also shown themselves less than Iran’s equal in their ability to understand their adversary.


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Thanks Mullah Cotton

Posted by Amwatching2c | Report as abusive

We should ask Holder to examine Sen. Cotton’s e-mails, under the Logan act, to find out if he has been in contact with Iran’s leaders before now?

Posted by Amwatching2c | Report as abusive

…and, then, there is the other point of view that no deal is better than this deal(regardless of Iran’s negotiating tactics and all the hours the author put into evaluating their tactics).

Posted by hometown | Report as abusive

American republicans are not smart? Stop the presses!

Posted by EF28 | Report as abusive

Yes, I went to school with Iranians.

They fully understand American law, including the Constitution.

The letter puzzled me.

Now I fully understand, both the foolishness of the letter, and that republican senators lack an understanding of Iran, foreign relations, and the role of the UN.

These republican senators have made Americans to be idiots.

I am so embarrassed as an American!

Posted by Flash1022 | Report as abusive

Have the drug cartels contacted Tom yet…I here he has some free time on the weekends to shrill for cash….

drop a bomb – sell some heroin – kick a puppy – all the same to Tom

Posted by Pipewrench | Report as abusive

Republican politicians have degenerated into whining traitors. They should go live with Jane Fonda and their latest hero, Vladimir Putin.

These are people who wasted 2 trillion dollars and 4,000 service lives on the 10 year war in Iraq. All for what? To give ISIS a home? Now these same republican politicians have special advice on how to deal with Iran? Thanks but no thanks.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

You are a bunch of idiots. You ever try seeking the Truth on topics that you spew ignorance about?… I didn’t think so. And complaining about debt…? How ironic coming from the loons of the left. The war on terrorism was a success until imam Obama took office. What a failure and a fraud he has been. I’m sure your all so proud… Ignorance must be bliss huh? Have a blessed day and pray for yourselves.

Posted by Battlekat | Report as abusive

You are a bunch of idiots. Iran cannot be negotiated with, you are too naive. You ever try seeking the Truth on topics that you spew ignorance about?… I didn’t think so. And complaining about debt…? How ironic coming from the loons of the left. The war on terrorism was a success until imam Obama took office. What a failure and a fraud he has been. I’m sure your all so proud… Ignorance must be bliss huh? Have a blessed day and pray for yourselves.

Posted by Battlekat | Report as abusive

Battlekat recalls: “The war on terrorism was a success until imam Obama took office.”

Yes, we remember how successful Bush was on 9/11. 3,000 Americans killed under his watch. What, he woke up, attacked the wrong country and you republicans feel successful? Might want to re-evaluate that ‘success.’

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

An habitual liar is still in office.

Posted by T.L. | Report as abusive

Never underestimate the stupidity of the GOP to double down on their idiodicy!

Posted by ceo030357 | Report as abusive

The author forgot the fifth option. No deal is concluded. Obama leaves office. The next President decides, along with the Israelis and the Gulf Arab States, that regime change is the only certain to stop the Iranian nuclear weapons program. A military strike of biblical proportions is launched against the Iranians. Not only are their nuclear sites wiped out, but their leadership structure is decapitated, their military forces are decimated, their civilian power and water grids are completely destroyed. The country devolves into the 7th century standard of living that their mullahs so eagerly crave. Years are spent mopping up the remaining mess of lunatics, bitter foes and suiciders who strike across the globe. But Iran is finished, as are their nuclear ambitions and the world is a safer place. Pretty much the 21st century’s version of the defeat of the Nazis. Yeah, I like this fifth option better.

Posted by RajTajTop | Report as abusive

and then there is Netanyahu saying that Palestinians have no rights and Israel will continue colonization of Palestine. Netanyahu spewing his racism of Palestinians and everyone in the world can see that the U.S. was, and is simply a front man for the Israeli position. The Palestinians have never had a partner for Peace because Israel does not want peace and the U.S. is standing behind Israel as their mouthpiece. Hopefully the world governments will impose justice with sanctions against the true terrorist country in the M.E. which is Israel.

Posted by johnnyboone | Report as abusive

The buffoons who signed the letter to Iran obviously are not chess players nor people of any vision. This was so clear from the beginning. This is so apparent from the Bomb Bomb Bomb Iran rhetoric we heard from the GOP in the last election.

The fact is Iran is much smarter that the GOP and has out classed and out played the GOP.

Posted by giotto20 | Report as abusive

It would not surprise me if the Supreme Court should find that these 47 GOP senators have actually committed treason.

Posted by pbgd | Report as abusive

Republicans always support the Ayatollahs of Iran. Their invasion of Iraq turned the country over to the Iranian Shia clerics with US dollars and American lives. TREASON!

Posted by Canela | Report as abusive

Traitors all. They should be in prison.

Posted by Nurgle | Report as abusive

File charges against the 47 U.S. Senators in violation of The Logan Act in attempting to undermine a nuclear agreement.

Posted by PaperTrails | Report as abusive

Reuters seeks to influence public opinion by banning comments that call for regime change in Iran. Reuters supports the Obama/Kerry Plan which will leave Iran with nuclear facilities and capabilities. Reuters supports the “any plan but war” mentality of the progressive liberal culture. Hopefully Reuters will change its position after post-Obama USA, Israel and the Gulf Arab States destroy the Iranian regime with a massive military attack.

Posted by RajTajTop | Report as abusive

This story reminds me of the Japanese samurai tale “The 47 Masterless Ronin” who avenge the death of their former master by attacking his enemy. They carefully plot and kill their enemy, and having accomplished that, they all commit “seppuku” or ritual suicide. Lots of parallels between that story and this…

Posted by GormTheOld | Report as abusive

THE BIG FALLACY: is that the USA or any country, can or should tell another sovereign country what they can and cannot develop and build. This whole thing is a farce.

Our votes mean nothing, we have taxation without representation again, time for an insurgency here in the USA.

Posted by LetBalanceCome | Report as abusive

After some thought, I think oil interests/donors want to keep the oil sanctions on Iran to avoid greater oil surpluses and lower oil prices. Thus, they set their legislators to do everything possible to interrupt any kind of negotiations with Iran.

In particular, American oil would like to get oil back up over $100/bbl so they can make money on their Alberta oil sand investment. These are the folks that want the Keystone XL pipeline.

Posted by Agres | Report as abusive

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