Michael KreponThe Negotiating Endgame in Iran

The negotiating endgame with Iran is upon us. The Obama administration had no choice but to hold fast to the March 31st deadline, allowing further time only to add detail if a framework agreement can be reached. Restiveness on Capitol Hill is growing and Republican support is hard to detect. Extending these talks once again would whip up stronger opposition in Congress without providing any additional leverage on Iran’s Supreme Leader to make concessions. A firm deadline is needed to finalize an agreement that effectively constrains Iran’s bomb-making capabilities in verifiable ways.

Supporters and opponents of trying to reach an agreement with Iran have tried to move the goalposts for an acceptable agreement as the negotiations have progressed. U.N. Security Council resolutions beginning in 2006 have demanded that Iran suspend its enrichment program. The Government of Israel, vocal domestic critics, and Members of Congress who oppose an agreement now insist that Iran have no enrichment capability whatsoever. For its part, the Obama administration and its negotiating partners have shifted from suspension to allowing enrichment under observable constraints.

Critics, including the editorial board of the Washington Post, oppose the amount of enrichment that the Obama administration seems willing to accept. According to press leaks, the United States and its negotiating partners have upped the allowable number of first-generation centrifuges operating under an agreement from 1,500, to 3,000/4,500 to perhaps 6,500. Iran has around 19,000 centrifuges at two sites, with the production capacity to make more, and more efficient, machines.

Heavyweight and bellwether Henry Kissinger has criticized the administration’s negotiating tactics with this artful formulation, provided in congressional testimony on January 29th:

“Nuclear talks with Iran began as an international effort, buttressed by six U.N. resolutions, to deny Iran the capability to develop a military nuclear option. They are now an essentially bilateral negotiation over the scope of that capability through an agreement that sets a hypothetical limit of one year on an assumed breakout. The impact of this approach will be to move from preventing proliferation to managing it.”

Moving away from unrealistic opening gambits in order to find mutually acceptable common ground is standard negotiating practice. Kissinger got hammered for doing just this by critics of the 1972 Strategic Arms Limitation accords. The most prominent exception to this practice – the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty – came as a disconcerting surprise to those anti-arms controllers in the Reagan administration who supported the “zero” option in the confident expectation that it would not be negotiable.

What matters most in Kissinger’s formulation – but not to diehard critics of any agreement with Iran – are the particulars of the word “capability.” The Obama administration has defined this term as Iran’s ability to be in a position to have a usable nuclear weapon in a year’s time. The package of constraints now under negotiation is designed to address this “breakout” scenario, which Houston Wood of the University of Virginia and David Albright at the Institute for Science and International Security have done much to advance.

Some argue that designing an agreement against a breakout time of one year is too exacting; others that it is not nearly exacting enough. A third view holds that breakout from facilities under close scrutiny is unlikely, and that if Iran sprints for the Bomb, it will do so at secret sites. Provisions allowing access to undeclared facilities are needed to address this concern.

Current events in Ukraine lend support to designing an interlocking series of constraints around a one year timeline for breakout. The coalition of states required to work in tandem to implement an agreement with Iran will have different timelines and thresholds to make hard decisions, as is evident from the reluctance of Germany and France to draw a hard line against Vladimir Putin’s encroachments in the Donbas region. If Iran violates its commitments under an agreement, lining up the requisite will and support for remedial actions could take months.

Sanctions have been an effective tool to engage a deal-minded government in Iran, but sanctions, no matter how tough, will not shut down Iran’s enrichment activities. The ‘no enrichment’ camp, led by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been handed even more of a megaphone by House Speaker John Boehner, seeks to stymie ongoing negotiations or kill any agreement reached. If Tehran responds to either of these eventualities with the expulsion of foreign observers at its nuclear facilities, tougher sanctions and bombing runs are likely to follow. Netanyahu would prefer the United States to undertake these airstrikes, which would have to be repeated periodically, each time with diminished support. If the U.S. Congress blocks or rejects an agreement that effectively curtails Iranian enrichment, and if Israeli or U.S. air strikes follow, Washington would be placed in an untenable position globally.

Opponents of an agreement – assuming one can be reached that effectively establishes constraints commensurate to a one-year breakout capacity – are obligated to explain how blocking or rejecting it would advance U.S. national, regional, and international security interests. How, for example, would rejecting an agreement that curtails Iranian enrichment affect proliferation prospects in the greater Middle East? Instead of providing forthright answers to hard questions, opponents take refuge in legislation for tougher sanctions.

Constraining Iran’s enrichment capability in effective, verifiable ways is far better than leaving it unconstrained and unmonitored. Iran’s nuclear programs have already prompted hedging strategies in the greater Middle East, as is evident by plans to proceed with nuclear power plants in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt and elsewhere. The extent of these hedging strategies will depend on the extent to which Iran’s nuclear capacity can be effectively constrained.

There are serious risks ahead whether or not an agreement can be negotiated. The agreement the Obama administration seeks would have less pernicious proliferation consequences than by torpedoing it. Those who oppose an agreement with Iran unwittingly invite more nuclear proliferation in the region.

Note to readers: A shorter form of this essay appeared in the March 1st edition of the Los Angeles Times.

Comments

  1. Miles Pomper (History)

    Michael,
    Your argument rests on the assumption that repeated bombing runs would have less and less support–what’s your basis for this?

    Also, can anyone pinpoint the origin of the statement that Iran would be able to rebuild its facilities within 3-5 years? This is a familiar talking point, but I wonder how anyone can be so precise about something so speculative.

    • krepon (History)

      Miles,

      Bombing takes place in a political context. If bombing is prompted because Iran fails to observe its obligations under an agreement, it will have meaningful support as well as opposition. If bombing occurs after an agreement that effectively constrains Iran’s nuclear capabilities is rejected by the U.S. Congress, it will have little support internationally and lots of opposition. How many states will support successive bombing runs, playing whack-a-mole against covert Iranian attempts to reconstitute nuclear capability? Think of how this plays out, for example, in the NPT and IAEA arenas.

      Prime Minister Netanyahu obviously doesn’t agree with my analysis. He seems to think that rejection of an agreement that constrains Iran’s nuclear capabilities and then taking military action subsequently is a sound strategy.

      MK

    • Jeannick (History)

      .
      Any bombing would push Russia to honour their air defence equipment contract with Iran , after all it has been paid for ,is pointedly excluded from the UN resolution and has been suspended to encourage Iran to go the negotiated way
      …bombing would create for the US a severe diplomatic weakness .
      It is not inconceivable that the Ormuz straits transit ,either of US Navy or broader civilian traffic would become an hostage , for memory , while super tankers have proved quite resilient , I’m not so sure about the LNG tankers

  2. Tobias Piechowiak (History)

    I am just curious. In all this discussion about Iran’s enrichment business, which can be totally legitimate for power production I am missing the discussion about the Arak reactor which would be a perfect PU239 facility.

    Are there simultaneous negotiations going on in that direction?

    • krepon (History)

      Tobias,
      Most definitely.
      I focused on HEU because that’s where most of the controversy lies.
      MK

  3. Kevin (History)

    Michael,

    The only conclusion we need to come to is whether or not Iran has made the cognitive decision to give up pursuing a nuclear weapon. If they have not then bombing runs will come anyway when Iran either A)secretly violate whatever agreement is reached, if one is even reached, or B)invest immense amounts of money into centrifuge and enrichment technology and then put it all to use in ten years time making HEU and building a bomb.

    The fact is, with or without this agreement, the US needs to come to the conclusion that we are ok with Iran having a nuclear weapon or Iran needs to give up the ambition to have one. Without one of those things happening everything we are doing now is a sham and lulls people into a false sense of security. It tells them the threat is over and in ten years no one is going to care about Iran anymore. Constraining them is pointless and gives us zero political utility as far as long term strategy goes because the end state is the same.

    Not to mention the greater scale of difficulty an effective air campaign will present in ten years time. Bombing runs may not be enough in ten years.

    Very Respectfully,

    Kevin

    • Yeah, Right (History)

      “The fact is, with or without this agreement, the US needs to come to the conclusion that we are ok with Iran having a nuclear weapon or Iran needs to give up the ambition to have one.”

      Ahem, in BOTH cases it is the USA that has to “come to a conclusion”.

      As in: either the USA needs to come to the conclusion that it is OK with Iran’s nuclear weapons **or** the USA needs to come to the conclusion that Iran has no ambitions to have nuclear weapons.

      There is not much point in postulating – as you have postulated – that Iran can make the decision to “give up the ambition to have one” if the USA responds by saying “we don’t believe you”.

      After all, this has happened before: Iraq gave up all ambition to have nukes post-1991, and George W Bush simply responded with: I. Do. Not. Believe. You.

    • kme (History)

      Surely the point of such an agreement is that the agreement itself will alter Iran’s calculus on the question of whether to pursue a nuclear weapon or not.

    • Jonah Speaks (History)

      The proposed analysis, “either Iran seeks a bomb, or Iran gives up the bomb entirely,” is too binary. A third option is that Iran seeks a “virtual bomb” — the capacity to build a bomb without actually building one. If so, then an agreement can forestall Iran from converting its knowledge of how to build a bomb into building an actual bomb. I can virtually guarantee that neither Israel nor anyone else will be destroyed by a mere virtual bomb.

      A successful agreement will a) motivate Iran to remain far away from an actual bomb and b) provide enough evidence to assure outside powers that Iran is not building an actual bomb. To the extent that Iran’s motives are strictly self defense, attempting to possess an actual bomb is counterproductive, as it provokes outside powers to seriously consider bombing or invading Iran.

    • krepon (History)

      Kevin,

      Thanks for reading.

      The U.S. intelligence community has assessed that the regime in Iran has not yet decided to go for the Bomb. The U.S. intelligence community is certainly not infallible, but folks who are watching and listening closely have yet to see the steps that indicate this decision. We see plenty of steps that Tehran wants to be in a position to make this decision, but Iran is still a ways away from the fail safe point.

      The interim agreement in the Fall of 2013 actually placed Iran farther away from the fail safe point. The US and its negotiating partners are trying to put in place provisions, including close monitoring, to be in a position to know when and if Iran heads for the Bomb in enough time to clarify this beyond a doubt.

      We need to know more about the agreement’s provisions. If the safeguards and special access provisions fall away after, say, ten years, this would be grounds for opposition. When safeguards have been applied in the past, they have stayed in place as long as the country involved has remained in the NPT.

      North Korea walked away from the NPT and its monitoring provisions. In doing so, Pyongyang forfeited sanctions relief and other kinds of — but not all — outside help. Iran, too, can decide to exit the NPT, either within the duration of an agreement, assuming one is reached, or afterward. I believe an Iranian exit is more likely if an agreement is rejected or blocked than if one is reached and implemented.

      MK

  4. Andreas Persbo (History)

    An excellent article, Michael. As one of those who are mainly concerned about further undeclared activities in Iran, I agree that “provisions allowing access to undeclared facilities are needed” once and if such installations are found or suspected. Discovering such facilities – and in the meanwhile living with the fact that not all negatives are false – will remain the greatest challenge.

    I assume that any agreement with Iran would require it to ratify the Additional Protocol without delay. Iran should be in a position to do this in a matter of months, having done most of the legwork for ratification during the protocol’s provisional application. Once the protocol enters into force, the International Atomic Energy Agency can work towards reaching a broader conclusion in Iran. We cannot presume this conclusion before the end of the decade, but should expect one before 2025.

    I find it likely that some countries will continue to distrust Iran and its intentions even after a broader conclusion. A system of verification is not a guarantee against misuse of nuclear technology. It’s nothing more than a regime supplying the means to detect such misuse with high confidence. Mistrust of Iran appears to be ingrained in some parts of the world, and unlikely to vanish even if the nuclear issue is resolved. Coming to resolution on Iran’s atomic future, however, may well constitute an important first step.

  5. Malcolm Davis (History)

    I suspect that agreement or no agreement, Iran will get the bomb – one way or another, at some point in the future – potentially within a few years. I agree, let’s give this agreement a chance – but we should not assume that just because we have signed a scrap of paper, it means ‘peace in our time’. The Iranians will gladly accept the relaxation of sanctions, but it is quite clear that they have no intention of backing off from their ambitions to pursue uranium enrichment on a level far greater than they actually need to for their stated purpose. All this agreement will do (if it actually does work) is make it a bit more difficult for Iran to breakout and get nuclear weapons quickly. It may take them a year – maybe eighteen months to get a bomb, and a few years to acquire a small nuclear arsenal that can be delivered by ballistic missile. This agreement will not prevent that – it just delays that future in time for a future Administration in Washington DC to have to deal with. That’s assuming the verification and monitoring arrangements are robust enough to detect cheating or respond to undeclared facilities. Given the experience with North Korea, I don’t think that we can assume a better experience for Iran.

    But, even with all these misgivings I have about the agreement, what is the alternative? If we walk away from it, we are back to toughened sanctions (which won’t prevent them from getting nuclear weapons) and military force. The latter option is not going to happen under the Obama administration, so its going to be up to the next President to consider that step. By then, striking Iranian nuclear facilities will be that much tougher, especially as the Iranians are likely to do a deal with the Russians for more effective air defence capabilities – think S-300 or worse, S-400 plus VLF radars. I have no doubt Putin would sell them just to pressure the West over Ukraine.

    The awful reality is that Iran probably will get nuclear weapons no matter what the international community does, and any deal signed by the US and the Iran won’t prevent that. It will only slow down the inevitable Iranian breakout (or sneakout) a bit. If I were a cynic I’d say it would give Obama (and Kerry) some sort of foreign policy legacy – but what a legacy??

    • Yeah, Right (History)

      “but it is quite clear that they have no intention of backing off from their ambitions to pursue uranium enrichment on a level far greater than they actually need to for their stated purpose.”

      A bold statement, but without some measure of Iran’s “actual need” it amounts to nothing but hyperbole.

      After all, who are you – indeed, anyone – to tell the Iranian’s what their “energy needs” are?

      Would you be equally amenable to defining what the Israeli “actual needs” are, and then telling Netanyahu that something has to be done about Dimona because – let’s face it – that facility is way, way over-engineered?

      Or, indeed, would you be willing to run that same ruler of the “actual needs” over any one of the P5+1?

      And if not, then why not?

      Part of Iran’s gripe is that they are being held to a different standard to everyone else simply because the USA and Israel doesn’t like them.

      And, to be honest, they appear to have a point.

    • kme (History)

      Actually, I believe that one of the thorniest issues is that the SWUs required for a even a small commercially-significant level of nuclear electricity generation are far greater than required for a small bomb program.

    • henri (History)

      Neither Iran nor Israel should have the nuke.
      The same argument is ideal for all countries in the world.
      But the question is why everyone is questioning Iran without
      asking the same from Israel ?
      WHAT RIGHT A FOREIGNER HAS TO DICTATE
      TO THE UNITED STATES ? HOW DARE HE IS CONFRONTING OUR PRESIDENT.

  6. Or Rabinowitz (History)

    Hi Michael,
    it seems to me that one important point is missing here: It was Kissinger who moved American non-pro policies from prevention to management in 1969, when he wrote about Israel that ‘in this case public knowledge’ is almost as bad as [nuclear] possession itself, which led to bilateral understandings. This approach was repeated in 1981 with Pakistan and to a lesser extent with South Africa. The Obama administration walking in the shoes what Nixon and Kissinger had on when they walked the same road.

    • krepon (History)

      Or,

      If memory serves (always subject to correction), Kissinger had misgivings about the NPT, along with John McCloy, because it would foreclose arming West Germany and other allies. But he and Nixon made the right call in seeking the Senate’s consent to ratification.

      I would argue that, until the U.S.-India civil-nuclear agreement, the non-proliferation regime has gotten stronger despite the exceptions/accommodations made to reality. At what point do the prior accommodations turn the tables on the regime? The Iranian case is worrisome in its own right, even more so because of the accommodations reached before it.

      Best wishes,
      Michael

  7. kme (History)

    If Netanyahu’s end goal is to escalate the situation to the point where airstrikes by the US are required, wouldn’t the most direct path be to launch unilateral strikes himself? That would obviously put paid to any agreement, and almost certainly force the US to continue what he had started.

    One is forced to conclude that none of the three parties in this Mexican Standoff wants to wear the opprobrium of “shooting first”, so: Israel and the US won’t launch strikes, Iran won’t expell the inspectors, the US and Iran will continue to try to make a deal, and Israel will continue to try to scuttle it. This dynamic can probably persist for a long time.

    • J_kies (History)

      Bibi has to realize that by taking the first shot he loses all legitimate claims to state that he is the victim in all this and the 4+ Bn$ US aid package is at risk.

      The Iraqi reactor hit actually motivated Saddam to build a covert bomb project. Syria wasn’t a terribly serious effort (if the Norks are the key advisors, it means everyone better was unavailable). Iran is a different problem entirely; they publically forswore nuclear weapons in a Fatwa. Changing the supreme leader’s calculus with an unwarned / unmerited sneak attack (the kind that might be semi-effective) sounds like the necessary fig leaf to recant that Fatwa.

      Bibi shouldn’t be that stupid.

    • Jonah Speaks (History)

      So far as I am aware, there is no published text of the alleged fatwa against an Iranian nuclear weapon — which makes it all the easier to change the alleged fatwa if someone attacks. I agree with J_kies, an attack on Iran would strongly motivate and increase the odds of an Iranian nuclear weapon. If Israel would be so foolish as to act in such a self-defeating manner, the U.S. should be clear that Israel acts alone.

  8. Arkady Renko (History)

    I’d like to see an article here discussing the reaction of the Arms Control community to the case where negotiations succeed, as in an agreement is signed, but Iran becomes near-nuclear or nuclear.

    As I see it, an Iranian nuclear weapon would set back nuclear zero by a generation or more. Arguments against a nuclear deterrent are weaker in the face of assertive nuclear states, we already see that with Russia, but Iran adds to the fire.

    The worst case scenario is that the Arms Control community places its entire credibility behind the decision, then it fails due to Iranian malfeasance.

    But, as Michael Davis said above, I don’t think that there is anything the US could do to stop Iranian nuclear ambitions. Arms control is already in trouble, maybe those who advocate for it should look to a less friendly future.

    • Malcolm Davis (History)

      It’s precisely the problem – we invest huge political capital in a negotiated solution, assuming the Iranians are negoitating in good faith, but then when the time is right for them and the sanctions are no more, they race to acquire a weapon – or have one already. ‘Trust but Verify’ may not be sufficient in Iran’s case – it certainly was never sufficient in the case of North Korea. We depended on arms control then, and it failed spectacuarly. Iran would be far worse, and a failure of a comprehensive agreement, after it had been signed, would be another hammer-blow to US influence and credibility.

      I come back to my main point – if the Iranians want nukes they will get them no matter how many agreements we sign. I don’t think military strikes are a sure-fire way of preventing Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons either – the Iranians would have moved all the critical components of a nuclear weapons program either into hardened facilities like Fordow, or undeclared facilities that we are yet to detect.

      Someone above said that its unfair that we are holding Iran to a different standard. We absolutely should. Unlike the p5 states, and I’d argue Israel, Iran does sponsor state terrorism, its former President has threatened to wipe Israel off the face of the map, and it is seeking to build hegemonic power across much of the Middle East, and it has lied about the nature and extend of its nuclear program. Yes, we should hold them to a tougher standard until they can demonstrate they are prepared to be a responsible international power.

      Malcolm Davis

    • J_kies (History)

      This is for Malcolm

      Iran does sponsor terrorism; so do other nations that are a lot less clumsy about it (Buk missiles v Hezbollah). That issue is unrelated to nuclear technology / nuclear weapons.

      Iran does build missiles that can range Israel. Without tested nuclear weapons; ballistic missiles are really inefficient artillery. That issue of wasting resources is also unrelated to nuclear technology & nuclear weapons. Truly weaponizing missiles to deliver nuclear payloads is a serious test and evaluation issue without shortcuts. Its not a UGT or 5; its a complex series of flight testing that has never occurred outside of the current (serious) nuclear weapon states (excluding the hermits).

    • Yeah, Right (History)

      MD: “Unlike the p5 states, and I’d argue Israel, Iran does sponsor state terrorism”

      I will assume that you really meant “state sponsor of terrorism”.

      If so then China is probably the only one of the P5 who is innocent of that charge.

      Russia? The Ukranians would definitely take the view that Russia is a sponsoring the “terrorists” who have broken away from Kiev.

      USA? Man, Hasn’t Obama got himself in knots hanging the label of “moderate militants” on some of the unsavoury people in Syria. Apparently there is an entire sub-class of “good terrorists”. Apparently.

      France and the UK? Hmmmm. Didn’t they join Obama in “state sponsoring” the terrorists who are now running amok inside Libya?

      Because it really does appear that “terrorism” is only “terrorism” when the “terror” is being directed against “the West”.

      But if it’s being sponsored by “the West” then it’s…. something else. Even though an awful lot of “terror” appears to be involved.

      MD: “and I’d argue Israel”

      I think all those dead Iranian nuclear scientists would disagree. Well, they would, except for the “they’re dead, Jim” bit.

  9. George William Herbert (History)

    Jeffrey Goldberg over in The Atlantic finally called a spade a spade; these negotiations are the best way to avoid going to war with Iran over this issue.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/03/white-house-official-nuclear-deal-is-best-way-to-avoid-war-with-iran/386806/

    I have been saying this for a while, but it’s a good thing to get it more out in the open.

    Iran would certainly lose such a war; but as we have seen twice now, there’s no guarantee that we on the other side would come out of it with anything looking like a win.

  10. krepon (History)

    This just in: 47 Republican Senators write an “open letter” to Iran’s leaders, advising them that any deal struck with Obama administration could be DOA in the next administration. Jeb Bush makes affirmative comments.

    For the text, see

    http://go.bloomberg.com/assets/content/uploads/sites/2/150309-Cotton-Open-Letter-to-Iranian-Leaders.pdf

    First the Netanyahu invitation. Now this. Completely new territory or opposing nuclear negotiations.

    President Obama’s understated rejoinder:

    “I think it’s somewhat ironic to see some members of Congress wanting to make common cause with the hardliners in Iran. It’s an unusual coalition.”

    MK

    • Yeah, Right (History)

      Kindergarten stuff, and written by nincompoops.

      The most glaring error (amongst many): the letter declares that “Congress plays the significant role of ratifying them” [“them” = “international agreements”]

      That statement is quite incorrect on several counts:

      a) it is the President who ratifies international treaties (albeit only after he obtains the “advice and consent” of 2/3 of the Senate).

      So it is the Senate (not “the Congress”) who matters, and it is “advice and consent” (not “ratification”) that is required, but once granted it is the President (not “the Congress”) who ratifies the treaty.

      b) Under USA law not all “international agreements” are regarded as “treaties” e.g. if the matter under negotiation falls within the Constitutional authority of the President then he does not need the Senate’s “advice and consent” to sign that agreement.

      After all, that’s how Status of Force Agreements (without doubt an “international agreement”, and quite binding on subsequent Administrations) are negotiated and signed, and the Republican party has never had a problem with SOFA’s.

      I’d suggest that it is a very, very sad day when the FM of Iran knows more about US Constitutional Law than the collective “wisdom” of 47 Republican Congressmen.

    • krepon (History)

      For ACW readers who don’t read the New York Daily News editorial page, an indicator of how far the Republican caucus has gone off the deep end:

      “We join GOP signatories in opposing the pact as outlined, but we strenuously condemn their betrayal of the U.S. constitutional system.

      The participants represented the bulk of the Republicans’ 54-member senatorial majority, vesting their petulant, condescending stunt with the coloration of an institutional foreign policy statement.

      They are an embarrassment to the Senate and to the nation…

      Rather than offer objections domestically in robust debate, as is their obligation, ringleader Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and his band trespassed on presidential turf by patronizing Iran’s leaders with the suggestion “that you may not fully understand our constitutional system.”

      A future President, they wrote, “could revoke” any deal not approved by Congress “with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.”

      All true, and unquestionably not news to Iran’s leaders, who may be murderous zealots, but are by no means morons.

      The plain intent was to sabotage Obama by pushing the Iranians into balking at a deal out of fear that a turn of the U.S. political wheel could doom the pact in the not-so-distant future.”

    • Jonah Speaks (History)

      And for a view from Tehran: http://english.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13931218001589&mkt_tok=3RkMMJWWfF9wsRoiuq7MZKXonjHpfsX56eslWKCg38431UFwdcjKPmjr1YcBS8R0aPyQAgobGp5I5FEIQ7XYTLB2t60MWA%3D%3D

      Asked about the open letter of 47 US Senators to Iranian leaders, the Iranian Foreign Minister responded that “in our view, this letter has no legal value and is mostly a propaganda ploy. It is very interesting that while negotiations are still in progress and while no agreement has been reached, some political pressure groups are so afraid even of the prospect of an agreement that they resort to unconventional methods, unprecedented in diplomatic history. This indicates that like Netanyahu, who considers peace as an existential threat, some are opposed to any agreement, regardless of its content”

      Zarif also makes a number of legal arguments in opposition to the Republican letter.

  11. krepon (History)

    David Ignatius in his 3/11 column in the Post looked up the language of the Logan Act,

    “named for a Pennsylvania politician’s attempt to meddle in President John Adams’s delicate negotiations with France in 1798. The language of that 216-year-old statute does sound eerily pertinent: “Any citizen…who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government…to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.”

    MK

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