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On Sabotaging Diplomacy with Iran

Hard-liners want the talks with Iran to fail.

Last week, Paul Pillar chided the Post editors for their criticism of diplomacy with Iran:

The editorial posits as one of its complaints a version of the familiar meme about the U.S. administration supposedly conceding too much to Iran—even though that image is quite at odds with the actual history of these negotiations, in which it is Iran that has made the most significant concessions. The editorial says the Obama administration supposedly “once aimed to eliminate Iran’s ability to enrich uranium,” although there is little indication that this administration ever believed that a zero-enrichment formula could ever be the basis of an achievable agreement.

In fact, it has been clear for a long time that a zero-enrichment demand was a non-starter with the Iranians, because this would force them to give up almost everything in exchange for very little. One of the main reasons that there has been any progress in the negotiations to date was that the U.S. and the other P5+1 members agreed that limited, minimal enrichment was acceptable. This was Iran’s sine qua non, and refusing it would have doomed diplomacy before it got started. If the administration had insisted on “eliminating” Iran’s ability to enrich uranium, the Iranians would have balked, and Iran’s nuclear program would be under none of the constraints imposed by the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA). Like other hard-liners that have made unrealistic demands while claiming to favor a diplomatic solution, the Post‘s editors aren’t interested in improving the U.S. bargaining position. They would rather see the talks fail than have them produce a result that falls short of their impossible goals.

To portray that minimal and necessary move as a major concession reflects a hard-liner’s mentality that treats anything short of maximalist demands on our side as capitulation to the other side. It confirms that the Post was never serious in supporting the negotiations, and was always going to judge the results of the talks by an unreasonable standard. So it is more than a little disingenuous to profess support for negotiations while faulting the administration for agreeing to the relatively minor conditions that made progress in negotiations possible. All of this shows that the Post‘s “support” for diplomacy has been a pose that it felt obliged to strike before getting down to the business of undermining said diplomacy.



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