I’ve generally been paying more attention to the P5 plus 1 Iran negotiations than the government shutdown melodrama. Haven’t you? The opening round in Geneva was predictably opaque: Iran’s foreign minister presented a complex proposal, and the Western negotiators, plus Russia and China, acknowledged its seriousness and said, we’ll get back to you. Anyone who thinks that nuclear negotiations are not incredibly complex, whose details are beyond the ability of all but experts, isn’t serious. But in general, Iran seems to want to offer inspections and limitations on how much and to what degree it will enrich uranium, in return for acknowledgement of its “right to enrich” and sanctions relief. Of course, the devil is in the details, but my sense is that a rigorous but fair-to-both-sides agreement would essentially make it impossible for Iran to “break out” and build a weapon without the rest of the world having a lot of warning. Which is good, because Iran’s leaders have said they reject nuclear weapons for religious reasons. Perhaps an Islam expert can suggest what these might be: it’s pretty obvious that Christian, Jewish, and atheist regimes exercise no such rejection. I would take the Iranian assertion with somewhat of a grain of salt, but it is clearly much better than Iran’s leaders saying that religion requires them the have the same weapons that various other countries wave menacingly about.
Of course, we know that a powerful entrenched interest opposes any such agreement with Iran. One high-ranking representative of it, Senator Mark Kirk, took to the pages of the London Telegraph to warn against any deal. Said Kirk, it’s 1938 all over again, and does the West want to be Churchill or Chamberlain. I wonder whether a single person in Great Britain is moved by such comparisons. In any case, a top Telegraph columnist responded forthwith, pointing out the very obvious differences between the behavior of Iran and Nazi Germany, including that, unlike some countries we might name, Iran hasn’t invaded another country in 170 years.
Mark Kirk, sad to say, represents a big fraction of the US Senate that takes its foreign-policy marching orders from AIPAC and Benjamin Netanyahu. One question observers of the negotiations are waiting to have answered is whether Congress will decide, in an effort to thwart successful negotiations, to add on to the sanctions—essentially denying the Obama administration the capacity to actually negotiate with Iran. My feeling is that this is somewhat a danger—but that if it is apparent to all the world that the ignoramuses of Congress are blocking a deal (I’m borrowing the term deployed by the Telegraph‘s Peter Oborne) the other nations whose cooperation is needed to enforce the sanctions regime will begin to peel away. Which might be good for Iran—to have the sanctions removed without a deal—but probably is not the best of possible outcomes.