The following is a dispatch from The Israel Project’s Omri Ceren regarding the state of nuclear negotiations with Iran:
Happy Monday from Vienna. The EU’s foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini arrived yesterday and told reporters: “As you know I have decided to reconvene the ministers. They will be arriving tonight and tomorrow. It is the third time in exactly one week. That’s the end, the last part of this long marathon.” Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif already held an impromptu meeting this morning. The overarching consensus – which is almost certainly correct – is that whatever gets announced will be announced no later than tomorrow afternoon. It might very well happen tonight.
As to what that announcement might be, there are a few options. In order of increasing probability:
0% chance: Kerry might make good on the comments that he made yesterday to reporters, and walks away from a bad deal.
Very low probability: the parties might come to a full-blown agreement ready to be implemented immediately. This scenario was never likely by June 30, and became functionally impossible after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei set out a range of new red lines a few weeks ago. Also, the Iranians gave a background briefing earlier today in Vienna where they provided their interpretation of an emerging final deal. Among other things they have some interesting views on what military-related restrictions will be lifted, which are in tension with how the Americans have been describing the deal. Those differences will have to be overcome, and they won’t be in the next few days.
Low-probability: the gaps might still be too significant to even colorfully announce a deal, and the parties would extend the interim agreement all the way through the summer. The option would be more attractive to the Obama administration than taking another 2 or 3 weeks. If the administration sends Congress a deal after July 9 then the Corker clock – how long a deal sits in front of Congress – goes from 30 days to 60 days. But if they get all the way through the summer, it goes back down to 30 days. The administration has obvious reasons to prefer that.
Most likely: there will be a non-agreement agreement. The parties will announce they’ve resolved all outstanding issues but they still have to fill in some details. Then the P5+1 and Iran would move in parallel to implement various commitments, and the Iranians would in particular have to work with the IAEA on its unresolved concerns regarding Iran’s weapons program (PMDs). In the winter the IAEA would provide a face-saving way for the parties to declare Iran is cooperating – IAEA head Amano said earlier this week that the agency could wrap up by the end of the year if Iran cooperates – and then a deal would officially begin. The option is attractive to the administration because it puts off granting Iran all of its anticipated sanctions relief until the IAEA makes some noises about the Iranians cooperating. The alternative would be poison on the Hill. This way the administration can tell Congress that of course PMDs will be resolved before any sanctions relief is granted; and after Congress votes, if the Iranians jam up the IAEA but demand relief anyway, lawmakers will have no leverage to stop the administration from caving.
The focus will then shift to Congress, where the debate on approving or disapproving of the deal will take place over the next month. Some of the questions will get technical and tangled – the breakout time debate is going to be mind-numbing – but lawmakers will also use a very simple metric: Is the deal the same one the President promised he’d bring home twenty months ago? Back then the administration was very clear about what constituted a good deal and emphatic that U.S. negotiators had sufficient leverage to secure those terms. The U.S. subsequently collapsed on almost all of those conditions, and lawmakers will want to know how the deal can still count as a good one.
In line with those questions, here is a roundup from the Foreign Policy Initiative on where the administration started and how dramatically it has moved backwards. From the overview of the analysis:
Over the past three years, the Obama administration has delineated the criteria that any final nuclear agreement between the P5+1 and Iran must meet. In speeches, congressional testimony, press conferences, and media interviews, administration officials have also articulated their expectations from Tehran with repeated declarations: “No deal is better than a bad deal.” This FPI Analysis… compiles many of the administration’s own statements on nuclear negotiations with Iran over the past three years, and compares them with current U.S. positions. It also examines U.S. statements on a range of other issues related to U.S. policy toward Tehran, and assesses whether subsequent events have validated them.
The web version has embedded links for each of the statements, so if you need them just click through on the url at the top. You might just want to do that anyway, because the web version is more readable.