Out­side cri­tiques could tilt fate of Iran talks

Law­mak­ers and oth­ers seek to sway nu­clear ne­go­ti­a­tions as dead­line ap­proaches. If the cri­tiques set ex­pec­ta­tions be­yond what is achieved, any Iran deal could ap­pear dam­aged, and the public might re­ject it. For some, that might be the goal.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Paul Richter paul. richter@ latimes. com

VI­ENNA — Sec­re­tary of State John F. Kerry and his team are re­turn­ing to in­ter­na­tional ne­go­ti­a­tions at a 19th cen­tury palace this week­end with a bounty of un­so­licited ad­vice on how they can wring a bet­ter nu­clear agree­ment from Iran.

With ne­go­ti­a­tions fac­ing a Tues­day dead­line, law­mak­ers, for­mer of­fi­cials and other crit­ics and al­lies in re­cent days have been is­su­ing state­ments and re­ports to try to keep the bar­gain­ing from tak­ing an un­for­tu­nate turn af­ter al­most two years of work.

The cri­tiques could work to the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ad­van­tage if they con­vince Iran that the U. S. diplo­mats are un­der pow­er­ful do­mes­tic pres­sure to stick to tough terms. Ira­nian of­fi­cials in Tehran have sim­i­larly been de­mand­ing tough terms, per­haps in hopes of giv­ing their ne­go­tia­tors added bar­gain­ing lever­age.

But if the com­men­tary sets public ex­pec­ta­tions be­yond what is achieved, the deal could emerge look­ing dam­aged, and might be re­jected by the public. Some of the com­menters, who fear the deal will pave the way for an Ira­nian nu­clear bomb, say they wouldn’t mind such an out­come.

Some U. S. crit­ics have set terms that are “al­most im­pos­si­ble to meet,” said Ilan Goldenberg, a for­mer Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial now with the Cen­ter for a New Amer­i­can Se­cu­rity think tank.

The U. S. ne­go­tia­tors and those of f ive other world pow­ers are seek­ing a deal that would lift eco­nomic sanc­tions on Iran if it ac­cepts lim­i­ta­tions on its nu­clear pro­gram to pre­vent it from ob­tain­ing a nu­clear bomb.

Sen. Bob Corker ( R-Tenn.), chair­man of the Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee, has co­op­er­ated with the ad­min­is­tra­tion on Iran in the past, but has re­cently sounded more crit­i­cal. He said last week that Kerry seemed to be “let­ting this deal erode away.”

Corker said the pact must al­low in­spec­tors to gain ac­cess to Ira­nian mil­i­tary bases and must al­low in­spec­tions “any­time, any­where.”

The ad­min­is­tra­tion and the f ive other world pow­ers at the ta­ble agree with Corker that ac­cess to mil­i­tary bases is es­sen­tial to any deal. But they’re not likely to get im­me­di­ate ac­cess to sen­si­tive Ira­nian sites.

The ne­go­tia­tors are plan­ning to give Iran a num­ber of days to chal­lenge any re­quest from United Na­tions in­spec­tors for ac­cess to an un­de­clared nu­clear site.

On Wed­nes­day, a group of re­spected for­mer of­fi­cials laid out in a let­ter their pre­scrip­tion for a nu­clear deal. The terms were note­wor­thy be­cause the group in­cluded for­mer mem­bers of the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s f irst- term in­ner cir­cle on Iran — Gary Samore, Pres­i­dent Obama’s for­mer ad­vi­sor on weapons of mass de­struc­tion; Robert Ein­horn, for­mer State Depart­ment non­pro­lif­er­a­tion chief; and Dennis Ross, for­mer top ad­min­is­tra­tion ad­vi­sor on the Mid­dle East.

The group’s ne­go­ti­at­ing ad­vice tracked closely with what the ad­min­is­tra­tion has de­manded. The for­mer of­fi­cials warned that they might not be able to sup­port the deal if the ad­min­is­tra­tion ac­qui­esced at the last minute on key de­mands.

In­ter­est­ingly, the group’s strong­est crit­i­cism of the ad­min­is­tra­tion was over Obama’s re­luc­tance to do more with the U. S. mil­i­tary to halt the moves of Ira­nian forces and their armed prox­ies in the Mid­dle East. The for­mer of­fi­cials said that to meet Iran’s threat fully, the ad­min­is­tra­tion needed to do more to train al­lied forces in Syria and Iraq, set up a safe haven in Syria and stiffen re­sis­tance to Ira­nian arms ship­ments and ha­rass­ment of com­mer­cial ship­ping in re­gional wa­ters.

The Amer­i­can Is­rael Public Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, the lead­ing pro- Is­rael lobby, has laid out f ive re­quire­ments for a good deal: It must au­tho­rize ag­gres­sive in­spec­tions, an­swer all ques­tions about past nu­clear re­search, lift sanc­tions only af­ter Iran com­plies with obli­ga­tions to scale back its pro­gram, re­strain the nu­clear pro­gram for “decades” and dis­man­tle Iran’s nu­clear in­fra­struc­ture.

The deal is sure to fall short of sev­eral of those goals. The six coun­tries aren’t de­mand­ing dis­man­tle­ment of ex­cess Ira­nian cen­trifuges, for ex­am­ple; they’ll be put in stor­age and mon­i­tored.

The world pow­ers have given up hope of get­ting Iran to an­swer all the ques­tions about its past nu­clear re­search. Such an in­quiry could take years and still not an­swer all of the United Na­tions’ ques­tions about past nu­clear work.

Iran would lose a lot if it ac­knowl­edged past re­search on nu­clear de­vices, be­cause that would punc­ture its claim that it has never pur­sued an atomic bomb.

So in­stead, the talks will fo­cus on spe­cific steps Iran will be re­quired to take, to try to an­swer key ques­tions about past bomb re­search. Once Iran has com­pleted those ac­tions, the world pow­ers will be will­ing to start lift­ing sanc­tions.

If the cri­tiques set ex­pec­ta­tions be­yond what is achieved, any Iran deal could ap­pear dam­aged, and the public might re­ject it. For some, that might be the goal.

Car­los Bar­ria Pool Photo

JOHN F. KERRY, re­cov­er­ing from a bro­ken leg, ges­tures with his crutches be­fore the trip to Vi­enna.

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