Notes on an Ongoing Process

At Friday’s State Department news conference, one of the reporters asked Asst. Secretary of State P. J. Crowley about stories that the U.S. has watered down the proposals it has put on the table for sanctions. Crowley responded there were “significant inaccuracies” in the reports because… you can’t water down something when there is nothing to water down:

MR. CROWLEY: Clearly, we are consulting broadly as we envision how to put the appropriate level of pressure on the Iranian Government as part of our dual-track strategy. But in order to take something off the table, you have to actually put something on the table. We have not circulated a draft resolution. We are still in the consulting stage. …

So the reporter tried again:

QUESTION: Let me ask it a different way. If – understanding that there is no physical text and that nothing has been put on paper, in this idea of trading ideas back and forth on what could be included in an eventual document, would it be fair to say that some ideas have, in fact, been shot down during that process, which it would appear the article (inaudible)?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, it’s an ongoing process. So again, I think this whole aspect is fairly premature. I mean, we have our views on what the appropriate measures might be. Other countries have a variety of views of their own, and so this is an ongoing process. …

We want to make sure that our calibration sends the right signal and puts the right pressure on the government, but spares undue hardship on the Iranian people. So there’s as much art to science in this, and this is an ongoing process.

So the reporter tried one more time:

QUESTION: Just one more on it, you did say that there were significant inaccuracies in the stories. Can you be more specific about what you find inaccurate?

MR. CROWLEY: I just think it’s premature.

QUESTION: Was it (inaudible) substantives that they were talking about it or was it the fact that things aren’t on what you call the table?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I would say that in the course of this dialogue, certainly we will say what about this, and another country might say, “Nah, I don’t know about that. What about this?” …

Certainly, there are – will all of the ideas that we’ve discussed end up in a final resolution? No. But I think we are seeking a strong resolution with sanctions that have the appropriate bite, have the impact on the Iranian Government that we seek, and hopefully, with no guarantee, that it will cause Iran to reevaluate the course that it’s on.

Nearly a year ago, Hillary Clinton assured the House Foreign Affairs Committee the administration was laying the groundwork for “crippling” sanctions if “our offers are either rejected or the process is inconclusive or unsuccessful.” It is apparent now that the groundwork was not laid last year; crippling sanctions are not currently being discussed; and there is not yet even a draft resolution for sanctions with bite. We are going around saying, “What about this?” And other countries are saying “Nah.”

But it’s an ongoing process. The watering down will come later, when there is something to water down.