The news broke on Twitter – where else? – at around five on Tuesday morning: "Officials: Iran Nuke Talks to Continue in New Phase." The Associated Press headline writer might just as well have shortened that to "No Deal," as the content of the story made all too clear:
"Wrapping up six days of marathon nuclear talks with mixed results, Iran and six world powers prepared Tuesday to issue a general statement agreeing to continue talks in a new phase aimed at reaching a final agreement to control Iran’s nuclear ambitions by the end of June, officials told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
"Officials had set a deadline of March 31 for a framework agreement, and later softened that wording to a framework understanding, between Iran and the so-called P5+1 nations – the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China.
"And after intense negotiations, obstacles remained on uranium enrichment, where stockpiles of enriched uranium should be stored, limits on Iran’s nuclear research and development and the timing and scope of sanctions relief among other issues."
Various issues related to nuclear technology – storage of Iran’s nuclear materials, the status of the Fordo plant, the time limit on research and development restrictions – are among the remaining sticking points, but none of these appear to be insurmountable. The principal division seems to be over the draconian economic sanctions imposed on Iran by the United States and its allies: specifically, the timing of lifting them. Iranian media, focusing on this issue, are reporting that how and when the sanctions will be lifted is "still under consideration." The AP story cited above says Iran’s Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Khamenei, opposes a two-stage deal – one that presumably schedules the lifting of sanctions only some time after Iran has carried out the stipulations of phase one, leaving open the possibility the US might backtrack.
So the deadline has been extended and instead of a signed deal, or even a "framework" for one, what we have instead (so far) is an "understanding." The negotiations are going to go for another twenty-four hours. But unless the talks continue for another two weeks, they are almost certainly doomed to fail.
The infamous letter authored by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Leo Strauss), and signed by 47 Republican Senators, presaged the successful sabotaging the negotiations. You’ll recall the text of this "open letter" to the Iranian leadership consisted of a little civics lesson in which the GOP solons instructed Tehran on the intricacies of the American political system. In short, Team Cotton told them flat out: our party, which controls Congress, is not going to approve any lifting of sanctions, period: and, with a little help from pro-Israel Democrats like Bob Menendez, any deal is almost certain to meet an insurmountable obstacle. That’s because of the legislative trap that is about to be sprung by a bipartisan coalition of deal opponents.
Yes, the President can lift some of the sanctions unilaterally, but not all of them. More importantly, the War Party has arranged for a way to get around a presidential waiver and scotch the deal before it is even reached in the form of legislation introduced by Republican Sen. Bob Corker and co-sponsored by 8 Senate Democrats.
The "Bipartisan Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015" forbids the lifting of sanctions for 60 days after a deal is reached. So any deal would not be implemented without a vote in Congress. It also requires the President to submit the agreement to Congress for its approval within 5 days. As Greg Sargent points out in his Washington Post interview with veteran legislative analyst Edward Levine, the political upshot of the Corker bill is that it would give supposedly pro-agreement Democrats political cover to undermine the negotiations:
"Sargent: Isn’t it actually politically easier for a Democrat to support the Corker bill, in the name of enhancing Congressional oversight, than it would be to vote against an actual final agreement?
"Levine: Assuming that the agreement is a good one, you’re correct."
The Corker legislation will come before Congress sometime in mid-April, which is why the news that no deal has yet been reached practically seals its fate. This bit of legislative legerdemain will abort any agreement even before it sees the light of day. As Levine says of the Iranians: "If they are convinced the US will never lift its sanctions, then what’s it in for them?" If the Cotton letter told them that a deal will only have a lifespan of two years, at most, the Corker bill is telling them it may not even last that long. In which case the Iranian hardliners will prevail, Tehran will walk away, and Senate "liberal" Democrats can then claim they only wanted to assert Congress’s role in the process, while blaming Tehran. And Sen. Rand Paul – who supports Corker, as well as signing on to the Cotton letter – can babble about the Constitution while playing footsie with the War Party under the table.
If you’ve been wondering why the big hurry on the part of the Obama administration to reach an agreement at this particular moment, now you know.
In spite of overwhelming support for the Lausanne negotiations by the American people, the 47 GOP Senators who signed the Cotton letter, and their covert enablers among the Democrats, will have led us down the path to war. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will have succeeded in mobilizing his American amen corner in order to stop any hope of peace with Iran.
As it stands now, barring some big breakthrough in Lausanne, war with Iran is only a matter of time. You can probably bet it won’t happen on Obama’s watch. However, just as soon as his successor takes office, the countdown to Armageddon will begin.
Early on in the run up to the Iraq war, I wrote an op ed piece for USA Today that seemed, at the time, a mite harsh. Citing the clear statements of then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon egging on the Bush administration to attack Iraq, and then go on to strike Syria and Libya, I wrote:
"Sharon told the congressmen that ‘the American action is of vital importance’ – which begs the question, vital to whom? … Our troops will be fighting a proxy war in Iraq, and beyond, not to protect US citizens from terrorist attacks, but to make the world safe for Israel. When the dead are buried, let the following be inscribed on their tombstones: They died for Ariel Sharon."
Substitute Netanyahu for Sharon and you have the truth about who’s dragging us into the next war – one that will make the Iraq war seem like a mere skirmish. Only this time the identity of the perpetrators will be clear to one and all.
No doubt we will have some announcement from the Obama administration that puts a happy face on what is – as of this writing – a failed attempt to avert another Middle East war. Pay no attention. This marks the end of the road for that effort. Sen. Cotton openly stated his intention was to "blow up" any deal and he and his Israeli handlers have succeeded.
I don’t use the term "handlers" lightly. The Cotton letter, as well as the behind-the-scenes ploy to bring Netanyahu before a joint session of Congress, was clearly engineered by the Israelis, who mobilized all their assets to pull it off. AIPAC, the powerful pro-Israel lobby, has pulled out all the stops, including heavy lobbying for the Corker bill. Such a campaign couldn’t have succeeded, however, without a lot of legwork: if not for Sheldon Adelson, the dual Israeli-American citizen who contributed a record amount to elect a fresh bevy of interventionist Republicans to Congress, war with Iran might have been averted.
Instead, we are very likely to be faced with an appalling prospect: a ruinous conflict that will drive the Middle East to perdition, and our own country along with it.
Oh, but every cloud, no matter how dark, has a silver lining, and so does this one. Because at least, this time, we’ll know whom to blame. When the body bags come home, and the war comes home in the form of economic collapse – astronomical oil prices will hit us like a ton of bricks – we can always look at the names on the Cotton letter, and the roll call of Democrats who voted for Corker, and "thank" them in the only way they deserve to be thanked.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).