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Will Iran's Missile Attack Finally Kill the Nuclear Negotiations Charade?

AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi

We've been beating the drum on the Biden administration's reportedly imminent and shocking giveaway to Iran for days -- harping on the appalling substance of the rumored capitulation, as well as the humiliating reality that the US delegation relied on Kremlin diplomats as intermediaries.  The Iranians, Russians and even the Chinese were apparently quite pleased by what the United States was willing to surrender, which was said to be so outrageous that several members of Biden's own team quit in protest, mid-talks.  Congress, meanwhile, has been kept in the dark on specifics, by design.  Would the legislative branch even have an opportunity to review the forthcoming agreement prior to huge sums of money started flowing to Iran?  There was a very concerning sense emerging that the particulars had been agreed upon, and finalization was merely a matter of crossing T's and dotting I's.  The message seemed to be, this is happening.  But then, as we addressed on Friday, the Russians decided to try to press their advantage and overplayed their hand, potentially derailing the entire process.  Sure enough, over the weekend, the negotiations ground to a halt:

Negotiations aimed at restoring Iran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers went on what its European hosts described as “a pause” on Friday, after Russia demanded relief from sanctions targeting Moscow over its war on Ukraine. Diplomats offered no timetable for when the monthslong talks in Vienna would resume. Negotiators even on Friday maintained that a roadmap was near for how the United States could rejoin the accord it unilaterally withdrew from in 2018, and for Iran to again limit its rapidly advancing nuclear program. While Josep Borrell, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, only referred to “external factors” forcing the pausing, it appeared the Russian demand caused the disruption. “The real issue for this pause here is what Russia has thrown on the table, which is essentially a grenade in the middle of the negotiations,” said Henry Rome, deputy head of research at the Eurasia Group who has been following the talks...Last week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said he wanted “guarantees at least at the level of the secretary of state” that the U.S. sanctions would not affect Moscow’s relationship with Tehran. While American officials sought to describe the demand as not related to the Vienna talks, matters swiftly stalled Friday with a tweet from Borrell.

It's almost as if conducting negotiations through the Russian regime is a terrible idea, perhaps because the Russians are self-interested, anti-American and thoroughly unreliable.  As I wrote last week, this "grenade" comes at an opportune moment for opponents of this alleged deal, providing desperately needed time to focus on the issue and galvanize action.  This issue of enormous importance appeared poised to slip through, relatively unnoticed, due to the Ukraine crisis and other factors.   The longer it lingers, and the more people hear about it, the more perilous the situation becomes for the Biden administration.  In that sense, this Russia-caused "pause" couldn't have come at a better time.  And then there's this, which also happened over the weekend:

Iran claimed responsibility Sunday for a missile barrage that struck near a sprawling U.S. consulate complex in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil, saying it was retaliation for an Israeli strike in Syria that killed two members of its Revolutionary Guard earlier this week. No injuries were reported in Sunday's attack on the city of Irbil, which marked a significant escalation between the U.S. and Iran. Hostility between the longtime foes has often played out in Iraq...Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard said on its website that it attacked what it described as an Israeli spy center in Irbil. It did not elaborate, but in a statement said Israel had been on the offensive, citing the recent strike that killed two members of the Revolutionary Guard. The semi-official Tasnim news agency quoted an unnamed source as saying Iran fired 10 Fateh missiles, including several Fateh-110 missiles, which have a range of about 300 kilometers (186 miles). The source said the attack resulted in multiple casualties and said the main target for the missiles was the "Zionist base, which is far from the American military base.”

The Biden administration is echoing what the Iranians are saying, which is that the US consulate compound was not the intended target of these strikes.  Whether that's true or not, Iran just fired off missiles to hit our Israeli allies, and at least some of those missiles landed extremely close to American facilities in Iraq.  The Biden administration's Deputy Secretary of State said these developments were "very concerning," but in her mind, they only underscore the need to...complete the planned giveaway to Iran:

This was a very concerning attack...We are very glad that our facilities are secure, that everybody’s accounted for, that no one has been hurt or killed. But all of that said, this is great concern. There will indeed be a statement, I’m sure, coming out shortly, as well as calls in. This was an attack on Iraq’s sovereignty, among other things, and of great concern to all of us...I think [the deal is] close, and we would like all of the parties – including Russia, which has indicated it’s got some concerns – to bring this to a close. We are very concerned about what Iran is doing, but imagine these Iranians with a nuclear weapon. We need to get that off the table so we can address their malign behavior in the Middle East, and we will do all of the above, but first we’ve got to get this deal. And it is not yet closed.

It would be one thing if the nuclear deal stopped Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. That might help justify so many of the concessions being offered. But it doesn't. Iran would emerge from the deal as a threshold nuclear state when the restrictions expire, within a handful of years. The agreement enshrines the regime's nuclear program.  One is left wondering what the Russians would have to do in order for the Biden administration to stop leaning on Moscow to broker this deal.  One must also wonder what Iran would have to do for the Biden administration to walk away.  It appears as though the worse Iran's conduct becomes, the more Team Biden insists that an agreement is vital.  The whole mess is so embarrassing that a growing number of Congressional Democrats are now speaking out against it:


Twelve Democrats in the House of Representatives signed onto a letter sent to US President Joe Biden on Thursday signaling that they will likely oppose his plans to reenter the Iran nuclear deal. The number is enough to guarantee a symbolic defeat for Biden if Congress votes to approve the deal, since Democrats only have a four-seat majority in the House. Opponents of the deal say Biden must submit the terms for reentering the deal to Congress for approval...Details of the talks taking place in Vienna have yet to emerge. But sources who have been briefed on the talks say they are likely to remove some of the sanctions former President Donald Trump imposed on Iran after quitting the deal in 2018, and that Iran’s breakout time for acquiring a nuclear weapon will drop from a year, the estimated time when both the United States and Iran were fully compliant with the deal, to eight months. The breakout time is now estimated at less than three months, in part because Iran has resumed enhancing nuclear fissile material at higher levels...

And because all roads seem to lead back to the Kremlin these days, I'll leave you with a question that more people are now seriously contemplating: Could Russia not merely lose strategically, on public relations, economically, and geopolitically in Ukraine -- but also militarily?  Maybe that's wishful thinking, but...maybe it's not.


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