The ongoing negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 world powers are proceeding smoothly, and yesterday Secretary of State John Kerry announced that implementation of the November 24 interim accord would begin in earnest on January 20. According to a State Department transcript, Kerry said matter-of-factly:
This afternoon, this evening, we concluded negotiations constructively and positively so that on January 20th, in just a few short days, we will begin implementation of the Joint Plan of Action that we and our partners agreed to with respect to Iran in Geneva. As of that day, January 20th, for the first time in almost a decade, Iran’s nuclear program will not be able to advance—in fact, parts of it will be rolled back—while we start negotiating a comprehensive agreement to address the international community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.
And according to the Tehran Times, Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araqchi, said the same thing, adding that a few minor stumbling blocks had been successfully resolved.
Behind the scenes, however, the White House and the State Department are furious about growing pressure in the US Senate—led by Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the Democrat who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee—to legislate new economic sanctions against Iran, an action that would torpedo the talks. (The November 24 agreement explicitly rules out new sanctions while negotiations proceed.) In a stunningly brutal response, the White House said that the bill “would divide the international community, drive the Iranians to take a harder line, and possibly end negotiations.” More significantly, the White House accused members of Congress who support the Menendez bill of wanting to go to war:
If certain members of Congress want the United States to take military action, they should be up front with the American public and say so. Otherwise, it’s not clear why any member of Congress would support a bill that possibly closes the door on diplomacy and makes it more likely that the United States will have to choose between military options or allowing Iran’s nuclear program to proceed.
The White House statement outraged hawks, neoconservatives and Israel lobby types who’ve been pushing hard to wreck the Iran-P5+1 accord, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called an “historic mistake.” In a statement in response to the White House, one hawkish group, United Against Nuclear Iran, said:
It is wrong for the White House to continue questioning the integrity and motives of anyone who supports more sanctions on Iran. It is nonsensical and out of bounds to say that a bipartisan majority of U.S. Senators secretly wants war with Iran.… It is…more than reasonable for one to posit that further sanctions—with delayed implementation, humanitarian carve-outs, reversibility, and broad discretionary and waiver authority for the President by the way—are in order, and it is certainly not a scheme to start a war.