Late Friday evening, at 7:50 PM Eastern and 1:50 AM in Vienna, Austria, Senior White House administration officials teleconferenced on background with reporters regarding the good news. There has been sufficient progress in negations with Iran to move forward with the next several months of negotiation. Right before the call, the extension had been agreed to.
“We reached agreement tonight. For those of you who don’t know, it’s 2:00 in the morning here,” a Senior White House official told reporters last night, voice weary but obviously pleased with the progress.
In addition to continuing the Joint Plan of Action, “Iran has agreed that it will move forward in a more expeditious manner to complete the fabrication of all 20 percent oxide in Iran into fuel in a timely manner, and will indeed during this four-month period fabricate 25 kilograms of its 20 percent oxide into fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor. In addition, Iran will dilute all of its up to two percent stockpile. That is at least three metric tons. And although it doesn’t hold much SWU, separate work units – that’s the measure of energy, so to speak – at the moment, in a breakout scenario it’s quite significant and quite important. So we think this is a big step forward.”
President Obama had to fight with Congress to even get the room to try to negotiate a nuclear agreement with Iran. He finally got that room, but Congress is waiting in the wings to impose even tougher sanctions on Iran and trying to dictate terms of a final agreement. Under the Obama administration, the European Union, Canada, Switzerland, Australia, Japan, Korea and Norway have imposed national sanctions on broad economic sectors in Iran.
As negotiators headed to Vienna at the beginning of the month to work toward an agreement with Iran, President Obama directed them to see if there had been sufficient progress over the past six months in the negotiations with Iran in order to justify a continued effort toward an agreement. If there had, they would continue on until November 24.
Good news. This means that negotiations will be “extended” through November 24th, even though the original plan called for them to last a year. It’s more of a “passing Go” type of extension. If you accomplish this, you can proceed with the plan.
The Joint Plan of Action is working so far. It has halted the progress of the Iranian program and rolled it back, although there are still gaps. In exchange, Iran got modest relief but their economy is by no means recovered and heavy sanctions are still imposed.
A Senior White House official explained that there are still gaps, so they are not saying everything has been resolved, “but it does mean that we saw openings and progress and creative proposals that began to see a potential assurance that elements of the Iranian program could be assured as peaceful to our satisfaction.”
The path toward a more peaceful co-existence is treacherous and requires constant effort. Additionally, the negotiators consulted on a regular basis with Israel and worked toward being more transparent with Israel about their efforts.
It sounded as if negotiating with Iran thus far had been rewarding and difficult at the same time. This is the tough work of slogging it through in an effort to avoid escalation. The hundreds of people working on an agreement with Iran can’t offer us any guarantees. We don’t get guarantees with much in life, but certainly with trigger sensitive negotiations, anything can happen. But what we can have is hope, and a sense that we are doing everything in our power to avoid escalating a conflict as the first or second resort rather than last resort.
While the previous administration took a more sanctions-oriented turn in 2006 with Iran (weapon oriented sanctions, not broader economic or oil sanctions as under Obama), it’s also fair to say that there is a cost to cowboy diplomacy, and one of those costs is a loss of esteem and good will. Obama took a marked deviation from Bush’s overall approach, in that he decided to try first to deal directly with Iran. It was after this effort, which his administration believes added credibility to his requests, that not only the U.N. but the E.U. and other countries enacted broad economic sanctions beyond the U.N.’s resolutions.
It’s also fair to say that Congressional Republicans wanted to make a show of force, even if that force was just a threat, rather than give room for diplomacy to work. Lindsey Graham keeps the pedal to the metal full throttle at all times, cowboy hat teetering recklessly in the wind, his hands off the wheel and his eyes closed.
The speak-softly-but-carry-a-big-stick approach of President Obama is markedly different, and in this case, effective precisely because of his diplomatic efforts before he needed/wanted something.
There’s no telling if an ultimate nuclear agreement will be reached. But each small step is a victory for diplomacy, and diplomacy is much more the Obama Doctrine than the Bush Doctrine.
Ms. Jones is the editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA and a member of the White House press pool.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.