Bruce Levine's picture

    Iran Negotiations -- The Final Phase

    The completion last week of the framework phase of the P5+1 coalition's nuclear negotiations with Iran  presents an opportunity to take stock of where the parties are and what to expect over the next few months leading up to the deadline for the final phase of negotiations now set for June 30th.  This analysis looks forward to the extent possible and amounts to my humble attempt to focus on what we might anticipate to see in negotiations and my even more humble recommendations to those who know far more about the substance of these talks than I would ever claim to have.  Much of what I discuss below is addressed in some of my previous posts addressing these negotiations.

    First, and looking at the various options at this point, I can think of no good faith reason to terminate negotiations now.  Whatever one thinks of the deal that appears to be shaping up, there is simply nothing to be gained, and a great deal to be lost, by cutting off the talks now.  Ultimately, many tough and unresolved issues remain, such as, for example, the timing of sanctions relief for Iran and the nature and scope of the unprecedented intrusive inspections that is the cornerstone of verifying Iran's compliance with any agreement going forward.  But these are not unknown issues, and the parties have negotiated  about them and know the various arguments for and against very well.  It is not a matter of time that separates the parties from an agreement; it is whether they can make the kinds of compromises that will facilitate a resolution.

    Critics can fairly point out that the framework agreement we all expected to emerge from the interim negotiations is hardly an agreement.  There is no document signed by the various parties, and neither is there the kind of joint but unsigned "term sheet" that I wrote about and recommended here.  Instead, we have separate statements of what was agreed to -- most importantly two separate statements issued by the Iranians and Americans, respectively, which as stated above reflect differences on important issues.  

    Still, notwithstanding the uncertainty created by separate statements, and despite the lack of any "framework agreement", the separate statements can still be utilized as a framework going forward.  Indeed, while I wrote about the importance of setting forth the terms of agreement, and while I  continue to believe that negotiations going forward are likely to be complicated by the failure to have a joint set of terms to guide the parties, the joint statements still provide the parties and their respective constituencies with enough information to determine where there is agreement and what remains to be decided.  And, by any fair assessment, the parties remain far apart and have substantial work to do in the next three months.

    Second, assuming that news reports and the conflicting statements of the Iranians and US accurately reflect remaining disputes between the parties -- a big "if" in negotiations at this stage because certain agreements might be cast by either party as disputed for political reasons at home -- prudent bargaining does not and should not lead either party to concede continued disagreement on any issue that it believes has already been resolved. For example, the US should not concede that the timing of sanctions relief remains in dispute.  It should insist that there is agreement on phased relief, and it should bargain accordingly.  So long as the issue remains on the table, and it is something that the other party does not want or can not accept, that party must pay with a concession of sufficient magnitude to get that issue off the table.  Obviously, this is overly simplistic as issues are not negotiated in a vacuum.  But it's a principle that any bargainer must keep in mind at all times, and it is something to look for in the reports that we will be getting as negotiations proceed -- as limited as they are of course because reports do not come from flies on the wall.

    Third, I have previously written and continue to believe that it is absolutely critical that the U.S. use the time remaining to sell this deal to Congress, the American people, and our allies in the Gulf, Egypt, Turkey, and Israel.  It appears that the president understands this and at least at this point appears to be taking a more conciliatory tone with his Republican critics at home and his critics abroad, and of course principally with Israel's reelected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  This, of course, wil be no simple task, but as a matter of simple politics, it is both a domestic and international imperative.   

    Finally, the substance of the various remaining disputes between the parties warrants at least another separate post.  But there is a deal to be had, the merits of which can and should be the subject of serious debate.  Still, among the things that we do know is that an unprecedented inspection regimen appears to be a non-negotiable item on the part of the U.S. and its coalition partners.  Here is the president on inspections from his statement announcing the completion of the framework phase (my bolds):

    [T]his deal provides the best possible defense against Iran’s ability to pursue a nuclear weapon covertly -- that is, in secret.  International inspectors will have unprecedented access not only to Iranian nuclear facilities, but to the entire supply chain that supports Iran’s nuclear program -- from uranium mills that provide the raw materials, to the centrifuge production and storage facilities that support the program.  If Iran cheats, the world will know it.  If we see something suspicious, we will inspect it.  Iran’s past efforts to weaponize its program will be addressed.  With this deal, Iran will face more inspections than any other country in the world.

    Keep an eye and ear out for discussions about "snap inspections", and the right to inspect civilian versus military installations, and declared versus suspected undeclared sites.  Absent agreement on verification issues there can be no deal, or no way to show that a long-term deal such as the one being contemplated can possibly work.  


    Bruce S. Levine

    New York, New York

    Twitter: @levine_bruce

    [email protected]



    It is true that the world will know if Iran cheats on the agreement. It is also true that if Congress screws up the agreements, the United States and Israel will be blamed for the failure. The voices talking about war come mainly from Congress and Israel. If Netanyahu prevails, Iran will be able to claim that it was doing its best to work with the United States, but the attempt was doomed to failure.

    I understand that the BB stuff is what thrills so many, but I'm going to try (if possible :)), to focus on the bargaining and stay away from the merits on this one.  I understand the political dimensions of the BB thing, and I'm sure we can expect to hear more on that score.

    But it is interesting that you write that "[i]t is true that the world will know if Iran cheats on the agreement."  That of course is pivotal to a deal, and that I submit is why I emphasize the importance of the issue of inspections.  I don't believe there is anything in the public record that would support your definitive assertion that Iran will not be able to cheat under this agreement.   

    Finally, I heard the president threaten Congress that it would be blamed, and as to Israel getting blamed that is par for the course.  I don't think those arguments resonate beyond one's base, and I thought it was a peculiar kind of warning to the Congress.

    This short piece really clarifies the issues for me, anyway.

    Sometimes I wish we had an Ike in the White House who could tell Congress to STFU during these negotiations.

    Life was so much easier when it was just the commies and US!

    Thanks DD, grass is always greener. . .

    If you feel like being positive(as I do) then you can decide to think there's an upside in the difference between the separate ,and different,  stories that both sides have distributed.

    It was in our interest that the Iranian negotiators should create  enthusiasm at home.

    Consider the alternative

    If they had returned home  deprecating the possibility of concluding the deal they wouldn't have had the "heroes welcome" they got upon their return. As it is -if public pressure matters- (a  question of course) they've made a rod for their own back. And since clearly they're clever  they've done that with their eyes open.To be crude. they came away from Switzerland a little bit pregnant and they've increased that by the expectations they created with their happy talk.

    Perhaps they feel  it's incumbent  on them to maintain at least the current level of public support. Which would have been harder to do if they'd been more factual in their report on  progress to date.

    All pretty iffy, but as I say I'd like to see the deal get done.

    AOBTW I'm encouraged  by Netanyahu's response. Rather than just saying "No way,Jose" he's  suggesting avenues which could make the deal less unacceptable to him.


    Flavius, you are now the second person after me in the left-of-center blogosphere who understands that the meme that Israel has offered no alternative proposal, while perhaps effective in a selling sense, is not accurate.  But in the end it doesn't matter--it's a phony standard, or at best an eminently incomplete one.

    I don't have any fundamental problems with the framework other than it is a complete departure from the position that the president took when running for reelection.  That said, the framework, if filled in with the type of transparency it is premised on, might end up being better than no deal at all.  And that, in the end, is the standard that is home base for the Administration.

    I'm not sure what the Israeli version is, but please look at the 3rd to 5th from last to understand Bibi's drift:

    Great write up Bruce . . .

    As you pointed out here...

    Ultimately, many tough and unresolved issues remain...

    And Josh Marshall in his Ed Blog listed a few that seem to be non-starters.

    There is no shortage of hyperbolic commentary about the framework agreement on the Iranian nuclear program. But one strain of the conversation is particularly odd and deserves more attention. In what can only taken as a tacit admission that the proposed restrictions on Iran's program are quite strong, we are now hearing that the agreement needs to include restrictions on Iranian ballistic missile development, support for Hezbollah and Hamas, support for the Assad regime in Syria, support for terrorism and even more amorphously an end to destabilizing the Middle East. Perhaps most preposterously, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is demanding that Iranian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.

    Josh continues>>


    Hey OGD, 

    Thanks, I read Josh's thing this morning, and I don't find it at all persuasive. He assumes that speaking about ballistic missile development, for example, is something new (which is expressly addressed in the US term sheet), when it is as I understand it part and parcel of the issue of the Iranian program's possible military dimensions (PMDs).  That is one of the things that the IAEA is still waiting to get from Iran and compliance with the IAEA has and continues to be part and parcel of any deal.  The rest of the stuff is just Josh doing his bash BB thing, which I know lots of folks think is a or the critical issue. But the notion that seeking to know about where Iran is on its ballistic missile program for baseline monitoring purposes is somehow new is simply silly in my opinion.   The notion that it reflects some kind of concession on the part of folks like me who have been critical of the deal is preposterous.  Other than that, I agree with everything Josh says! :)

    P.S. Just adding this link to what looks to be a good overview of PMDs and the Iran negotiations.


    Well Josh is just piling on the most obvious inanity that most of the world's press picked up on, demanding that Iran recognize Israel's right to exist. Sorry, that's not an accord that anyone agreed to, and isn't part of the UN's mandate on nuclear controls.

    Should Iran be given a chance to force Israel to recognize Palestine's right to exist? BB has chutzpah and a large supply of self-serving hypocrisy and deception. After hearing him bloviate over the decades, it would have been nice for him to just go away and be replaced with simply anyone, whether they had better or worse politics. Instead, he's jumped the shark but keeps on skiing. This Fonzi sitcom is destined for more ludicrous episodes. I can hardly wait.

    I am now convinced that if the president didn't have a Netanyahu he'd have to invent one.

    well, he is a master of invented excuses and "reluctant" compromises.

    Thanks for the link to Kelsey Davenport. In case I had any doubt-which I didn't- it makes clear that since I haven't a clue about the matters that KD discusses  I should stay out of it , which I will.

    While I'm at it I'll  also confess that this morning I made a copy of Josh's comment for my wife's benefit.Something I seldom do lest she be prompted to point out that if she lacked for reading matter.she'd be sure to let me know.. But until then.......

    Having followed Josh since he covered the 2004 Democratic convention I take the lazy path of assuming that if he doesn't know what e.g. Kelsey Davenport  is discussing he moves in circles of those who do. So I'm fairly safe in relying on him.if not to know all the details at least to know where the most important  bodies are buried.. ( A friend was in the locker room at Burning Tree when Jimmy Hoffa disappeared..When Freddy Fitzimmons came in another golfer jovially inquired " Hey Freddie ,what did you do with Jimmy ?") . 

    But, as Gail Collins would say ...'but I digress'.

    You can expect to hear quite a bit about this WSJ piece jointly written by Henry Kissinger and George Schultz.  It's just a couple of hours old.

    P.S. Please let me know if there's a paywall issue.

    Huffpo does the same thing.

    It will list some thread/link and I end up at WSJ and I get three sentences (already given at Huffpo) and I am out of luck.

    Yeah, WSJ, a site I despise, will not let me read an article.

    At least Washpo gives me 10? readings a month.

    I love this idea of internet neutrality, but damn. hahhaha  

    Let me see if I can get a link to it DD.

    Try this.  I took this one off google, so maybe it will work?  I'm going to include some excerpts, but its a pretty long piece and I really hope you get a chance to read the whole thing:

    Debate regarding technical details of the deal has thus far inhibited the soul-searching necessary regarding its deeper implications. For 20 years, three presidents of both major parties proclaimed that an Iranian nuclear weapon was contrary to American and global interests—and that they were prepared to use force to prevent it. Yet negotiations that began 12 years ago as an international effort to prevent an Iranian capability to develop a nuclear arsenal are ending with an agreement that concedes this very capability, albeit short of its full capacity in the first 10 years.

    . . .

    Negotiating the final agreement will be extremely challenging. For one thing, no official text has yet been published. The so-called framework represents a unilateral American interpretation. Some of its clauses have been dismissed by the principal Iranian negotiator as “spin.” A joint EU-Iran statement differs in important respects, especially with regard to the lifting of sanctions and permitted research and development.

    . . .

    Even when these issues are resolved, another set of problems emerges because the negotiating process has created its own realities. The interim agreement accepted Iranian enrichment; the new agreement makes it an integral part of the architecture. For the U.S., a decade-long restriction on Iran’s nuclear capacity is a possibly hopeful interlude. For Iran’s neighbors—who perceive their imperatives in terms of millennial rivalries—it is a dangerous prelude to an even more dangerous permanent fact of life. 

    . . .

    Until clarity on an American strategic political concept is reached, the projected nuclear agreement will reinforce, not resolve, the world’s challenges in the region. Rather than enabling American disengagement from the Middle East, the nuclear framework is more likely to necessitate deepening involvement there—on complex new terms. History will not do our work for us; it helps only those who seek to help themselves.

    P.S. Note to Management.  Please let me know if you think that I should pare down these portions from the article. The piece is much longer and this really is just a sample, but of course one vibrant but small website's sample is another lawyer's violation of this or that (as they say in the business).

    For 20 years, three presidents of both major parties proclaimed that an Iranian nuclear weapon was contrary to American and global interests—and that they were prepared to use force to prevent it.

    And meanwhile.....

    Your dots are appropriate because quite a bit has happened in those 20 years and now even the president takes the position that, absent the November 2013 interim agreement, Iran will would be able to accumulate sufficient enriched material to produce a bomb in 2-3 months. 

    But more importantly for the moment Flavius, were you able to link to the Kissinger/Schultz article w/o the paywall???? 

    I hope so because, love them or hate them, the have oodles of experience and they're old and so we give them a presumption of respect (rebuttable of course).  I mean heaven's sake, Kissinger advised goes back to at least Kennedy in the oval office sense so I think he's worth a listen too.  And Schultz also worked for both parties and he was the former Secretary of the DOL, which is where I started my career, and from what I know and from what we still see in important labor relations regulations, he was very well respected by all.

    And while you're at that, what the two of them say in the last sentence (see above) about history not doing work for us really does sound profound.  But I'm not quite sure I know exactly what they mean?  Do you?

    Haven't read but will.

    I think of Kissinger as  brilliant but having his own agenda and of Schultz as a plumber come with his tools to do a job. The two of them together is a powerful combination.

    I took the final sentence to mean that whatever good stuff had been done by past Secretaries of State (a modest way of saying  by them , themselves) it was now up to the current team to run with the ball. And that worries them.

    He means, I think, you can't just sign an agreement and put things on autopilot for 10 years, hoping things will improve or work themselves out. That's letting history do your work for you. You, people, have to keep working the agreement over those ten years to create an outcome to your liking.

    The head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, expressed support for the April 2 nuclear framework announcement in Lausanne between Iran and ​the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany.

    Thanks lulu. Interesting that, if the IRGC is supportive of the deal, then I'm wondering how much domestic "hardline" there is in Iran at this point, no?

    Following up on Lulu's comment linking to IRGC statement on the negotiations, Politico reports now on what I believe are the first comments from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameni on the negotiations.  Khameni says he's neither for or against the deal because there is no deal.  Here's what's reported:

    Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei spoke out for the first time about the recent nuclear deal, saying he does not support or oppose any negotiations.

    During a speech on Thursday, Khamenei called the U.S. “devilish” for posting a fact sheet that he said was at odds with what negotiators originally agreed upon and would not throw his support behind the deal until the details are sorted out.

    “I neither support nor oppose it,” Khamenei said, according to Reuters. “Everything is in the details; it may be that the deceptive other side wants to restrict us in the details.”

    “They always deceive and breach promises,” he said.

    Smart negotiating stance demonstrated here.  Khameni, in saying everything remains open, is going to exacerbate complications arising from the lack of a joint statement.  

    I think you're being a bit unfair to Khamenei. WW2 came from the bait-and-switch on surrender conditions from WW1, and I think the US often doesn't negotiate very candidly. Shame on Iran for noticing say what happened in Iraq. And what can't be won at the bargaining table, we'll win in the media or via followon complications - maybe complicate removal of sanctions for 10 more years? The US stalled some 15+ years in implementing parts of NAFTA. Always exceptional when it comes to catering to our internal tea parties and other weirdos; intolerant to other countries' internal politics. Syria gave up Chen weapons easily - but we're still trying to frame that as noncompliance. Etc etc.

    I wasn't being critical of Khameni in that sense at all.  I highlight this because it's the first time  he's spoken out about the agreement since it was said to be an agreement, etc.  I think his response is not a rejection of the talks or of what's been negotiated, but a prudent posture for him to be taking that exploits Iran's position at this time out phase of negotiations.  

    I don't take issue with the notion that the U.S. doesn't always negotiate very candidly, and I would suggest and I think I've written this before, that the ambiguity that we see now and reflected in the comments of Khameni, are in many ways the fault of our negotiating team.  

    Hope that clarifies?

    P.S. Just to clarify even more, I am trying to look at this from the perspective of where the negotiations are at.  And I think that it is to the Iranian's advantage to keep things vague at this point because they have a potpouri of things that the U.S. claims there is agreement on, and so all things equal they can pick and choose what they confirm their agreement on at the time of their choosing at the table.  I would also think that he is aware of how much the Americans want this deal to work and so his response about the lack of agreement is a smart response in light of that. Forgot to add that of course from what we know it seems that the Iranian people want this deal badly as well and I would think he doesn't discount that.

    Yep, that clarifies - misunderstood you at 1st reading.

    Bruce, good discussion. If it's to the Iranian's (Khameni's) advantage to keep things vague at this point, wouldn't it also be to the advantage of the U.S. Senate to keep its mouth shut prior to to the President reaching a final agreement?

    Of course they won't and surely a wet behind the ears Senator from Arkansas is a better negotiator than the President, the Iranians, and our allies.

    Or perhaps in another way the clustermuck in Congress emulates Khameni.

    Hey Oxy, thanks for commenting.  You ask an excellent question and one that I think helps separate those in the Senate (most of the GOP I would think) who just don't want any deal, and Senators who have a genuine interest in oversight in a way that will not interfere with negotiations.  I'm not sure that means the Senate needs to be silent during the negotiations, but I think the point that you and Ramona and others made back in February after the letter from the 47 was sent is also true, that there are appropriate ways to raise issues and conduct oversight without doing things that challenge the authority of the president and his negotiating team at the table.  Indeed, when it's done "right" in a negotiating sense, as I think Khameni's posture illustrates, it becomes leverage at the bargaining table.  

    Finally, I think from a bargaining perspective, there is quite a bit of truth in your suggestion that "perhaps in another way the clustermuck in Congress emulates Khameni."  Yes, if done right, the crazy folks that you have to deal with at home, Supreme Leader or Senator, have the same role in the negotiating extravaganza.



    I wonder whether your thinking about the role that a Senator should play in the negotiations is anachronistic. Brad Delong argued  strongly, from his own involvement,  that Hillarycare could well have passed if she had entered into a dialog with some of the Republican senators who were actually anxious to participate- but never got the chance

    In comparison by the time Obamacare approached a similar status McConnell's position was simply that Obama should be denied any  victories.

    Perhaps even  McConnell will make an exception and revert to the old dogma that partianship stops at the water's edge.That's not my gut feeling but I hope  I'll be proved wrong (again).


    There is a good segment on BloggingHeadsTV by Bill Scher. He is usually a good analyst of the pure politics of any given issue and based strictly on the pragmatic choices facing politicos. He gives a convincing , to me, case for why the Democrats should but more importantly will, in his opinion, stay with Obama on the Iran deal. This segment of ten minutes starts 31 minutes into this week's addition. You might take heart from hearing it. I hope he is right. There is a couple minutes on Rand Paul before he gets to the Iran deal.


    Thanks Bruce.  Good post.  I'm with President Obama 100% on this.

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