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As Optimism Grows, Possible Iran Deal Gains Key Endorsement

A recent endorsement for a possible nuclear deal with Iran by an influential former official will provide much needed political cover to shaky Democrats.

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Optimism that the US and world powers can, after all, strike a nuclear deal with Iran by or shortly after the current November 24 deadline appeared to grow here in Washington substantially. Such a deal also gained a critical endorsement, one that should provide a lot of political cover to shaky Democrats, as well as voices in the US Jewish community who, in contrast to the right-wing leadership of AIPAC and other “mainstream” Jewish organizations, have long favored President Obama’s diplomatic efforts.

In an interview with the Jerusalem Post, Amb. Stuart Eizenstat, who played a key role in promoting sanctions against Iran under both Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton and who succeeded Dennis Ross as chairman of the Jerusalem-based Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI), challenged Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz’s recent claim in a New York Times op-ed that the failure to reach an agreement “can be regarded a qualified success, because it would represent the integrity of an international community adhering to its principles rather than sacrificing the future of global security.”

According to Eizenstat, whose experience in Democratic foreign policy circles was described as “vast” by none other than Bill Kristol’s Weekly Standard two years ago:

No deal is not a success, because it means an unrestrained use of centrifuges, the Iranian plutonium plant at Arak continuing, no intrusive inspections, no elimination of 20-percent enriched uranium, and less likelihood of eliminating weaponization.

…[A deal] would not be a bouquet of roses. It has a lot of thorns in it. But the alternative is nothing but thorns. It would almost force a military reaction, which even under the best circumstances  …would set back Iran two to three years and have ripple effects that would tremendously harm Israel, such as attacks from Hezbollah.

 

Eizenstat’s remarks came during a week in which, according to the Wall Street Journal’s well-connected Jay Solomon, the administration has begun actively promoting a possible nuclear deal with foreign allies, key members of Congress, and former senior foreign policy officials. While administration officials insist that important gaps between Iran and the P5+1 (US, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany) remain on some key issues, it appears that meetings in Vienna made important progress.

The Journal also reported that the two sides may be moving toward a compromise on one key issue that has gained a lot of attention here—the number of centrifuges (around 4,000) that Iran could keep spinning to produce low-enriched uranium under an accord.

The fact that the administration is indeed briefing interested parties on the likely parameters of a final accord—and apparently aggressively defending it—indicates a higher degree of confidence that it will get a deal. Of course, the administration’s hand may have been forced somewhat by the backlash provoked by the very damaging—and, in my view, quite misleading (because the administration has never tried to hide its intentions in this regard)—New York Times article by David Sanger, “Obama Sees an Iran Deal That Could Avoid Congress.”

Solomon (and other close observers) also drew attention to the tone of the unexpectedly upbeat speech by Washington’s chief negotiator, Deputy Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, as an indication of growing optimism on the administration’s part that a deal was achievable by the deadline or quite soon thereafter.

You can assess it for yourself, but here’s one of the concluding passages:

Last fall, the President of the United States and the leaders of Iran decided to test the possibilities of direct negotiations on the nuclear issue. Both faced resistance and criticism for taking this bold step. And yet, both still chose to accept the risks of diplomacy over the even greater uncertainties of other options. We do not yet know what the full consequences of this decision will be. But the world is clearly better off now than it would have been if the leaders on both sides had ignored this opening. With all that is going on in the Middle East today, an Iranian nuclear program that was not frozen but instead rushing full speed ahead toward larger stockpiles, more uranium enrichment capacity, the production of weapons-grade plutonium, and less transparency would hardly have been a stabilizing factor. Although our negotiating progress to date hasn’t fulfilled our highest hopes, it has still exceeded the expectation of many observers.

Make no mistake. Developing a consensus on a comprehensive plan will require some extraordinarily difficult decisions and we should all appreciate that. This negotiation is the very opposite of easy. But the potential benefits are quite extraordinary. And it is vital that we understand that, as well. Because the acceptance and implementation of a comprehensive plan will improve prospects for people everywhere. It will reduce anxiety and enhance security throughout the Middle East. It will make possible an era of greater prosperity without any loss of dignity for the people of Iran. It will protect our allies and partners from a new and dangerous threat. It will lessen the incentive for a regional nuclear arms race and thereby strengthen the international nuclear proliferation regime. It will make our own citizens safer. And it will demonstrate yet again the potential for clear-eyed diplomacy to arrive at win-win solutions achievable in no other way. In sum, compared to any alternatives, diplomacy can provide a more sustained and durable resolution to the issues generated by Iran’s nuclear activities.

Almost 800 years ago, the Persian poet Saadi advised listeners to “Have patience; all things are difficult before they become easy.”

Despite the intense efforts of negotiators from seven countries and the European Union, we are still in that “difficult” stage. We must use the remaining time wisely and with a sense of urgency and purpose.

 

Again, administration officials privately stress that the deal is not yet done, but I think it’s pretty clear from developments that the negotiators and the administration believe that one is definitely within reach, and within the next month or soon thereafter.

In his interview, Eizenstat, who met with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif during the UN General Assembly in September and enjoys access to top administration officials as well, said he believed there was a 20-40% chance of reaching a comprehensive deal by Nov. 24, but the Post also noted that “he was certain a deal would be attained before President Obama leaves office in January 2017.” He also defended Obama’s intention to ease sanctions on Iran without asking for the approval of Congress. In the Post’s words, “Eizenstat said that would be a good thing for Israel because it would make it easier for sanctions to be reimposed.”

It’s important to note that Eizenstat also serves as the chairman of the Atlantic Council’s Iran task force. Established in 2010, the task force was co-chaired by Eizenstat and Chuck Hagel, who subsequently, of course, became Obama’s Secretary of Defense. I attended the task force’s inaugural briefing and was struck by how much more hawkish Eizenstat was than his co-chair, and, indeed, his position then—that ultimately attacking Iran’s nuclear installations was preferable to Tehran’s getting a nuclear weapon— has not changed, according to the interview.

But it’s very clear that Eizenstat sees an agreement along the lines that the administration is now promoting as vastly preferable to the alternative, not only for the US, but for Israel, too (although, as the Steinitz op-ed demonstrates, Israel’s right-wing political leadership is most unlikely to say so).

In addition to his chairmanship of the JPPI, Eizenstat is the author of “21st Century Global Forces, Their Impact on the Jewish People, Israel and the US.” He has also served as Special Adviser to the Secretary of State on Holocaust Issues under both Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. During the Clinton administration, he served as Special Representative of the President on Holocaust Issues and, in that capacity, presided over negotiation agreements with the Swiss, Germans, Austrians, and French covering the restitution of property, compensation payments to slave and forced laborers, recovery of looted art and bank accounts, and payments of insurance companies.

As the Standard noted in its complimentary piece two years ago,

Consider his biography, especially the parts detailing his experience in sanctioning Iran:

During a decade and a half of public service in three US administrations, Ambassador Eizenstat has held a number of key senior positions, including chief White House domestic policy adviser to President Jimmy Carter (1977-1981); U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade, Under Secretary of State for Economic, Business and Agricultural Affairs, and Deputy Secretary of the Treasury in the Clinton Administration (1993-2001).

During the Clinton Administration, he had a prominent role in the development of key international initiatives, including the negotiations of the Transatlantic Agenda with the European Union (establishing what remains of the framework for the US relationship with the EU); the development of the Transatlantic Business Dialogue (TABD) among European and US CEOs; the negotiation of agreements with the European Union regarding the Helms-Burton Act and the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act; the negotiation of the Japan Port Agreement with the Japanese government; and the negotiation of the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, where he led the US delegation.

 

Eizenstat’s list of potential negative consequences of not reaching a deal was illustrated by a chart circulated here Friday by the Council for a Livable World. You can find it here.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com.

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