The White House starkly warned Congress on Tuesday not to stand in the way of negotiations with Iran over its nuclear enrichment program, specifically referring to thwarting diplomacy as taking the United States on a “march to war.”
White House spokesperson Jay Carney during his daily briefing made the remarks when asked about this weekend’s negotiations with Iran in Geneva. While there, the international negotiators from the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, China, and Russia — the P5+1 — were unable to come to an accord with Iran over an interim deal, which would have set the stage for a longer-term conclusion to the crisis. Iran currently insists that it has the right to enrich nuclear fuel for peaceful purposes; members of the international community remain skeptical that there is no military dimension to Iran’s program.
“The American people do not want a march to war,” Carney said, calling out legislators and outside groups who have lobbied hard against any potential deal. “The American people justifiably and understandably prefer a peaceful solution that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and this agreement, if it’s achieved, has the potential to do that,” Carney went on. “The alternative is military action.”
The Obama administration has long-held the policy that a military option remains firmly on the table when it comes to Iran, though not as a first course of action. That important caveat is what has had hawks on the issue pressing the administration to accept an endgame on Iran — a complete dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program — that Iran could never accept, and would either end in regime change in Tehran or an all-out military conflict.
Carney also made sure to be clear that when it comes to sanctions, the U.S. is not in favor of completely rolling back all of the embargoes that have been put in place — both unilaterally and multilaterally — right away. Nor is the U.S. position to completely give up on all new sanctions threats forever. “Again, this is not about being for or against sanctions,” Carney said. “But this is a decision to support diplomacy and possible peaceful resolution to this issue.”
The administration is meanwhile on a full court press to ensure that Democrats stand with the White House on delaying new sanctions, including having President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden make calls to members of Congress personally. Secretary of State John Kerry, recently returned from the talks in Geneva, brief the Senate Banking Committee this week on the progress made during the discussions. Kerry is aiming at convincing committee chair Sen. Johnson (D-SD) to hold off on taking up the new round of sanctions passed in the House earlier this year.
Republicans on the Hill, however, seem convinced that any delay of new sanctions would be useless after the last round of negotiations ended inconclusively. “At the last meeting they were really working on something, and Democrats were willing to give them a round of talks to see where it goes,” a GOP aide told The Hill. “And there’s now there’s a significant lack of trust in what the negotiations involve. What was briefed to the senators last time did not match … what was actually offered.”
Despite the skepticism on display, both on the Hill and from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the details of the P5+1 proposal have not been made public. Instead, only a loose framework has emerged, one where some portion of the sanctions on Iran would be rolled back in exchange for a halt in activities related to its nuclear program while a final deal was constructed. According to reports, France — and eventually the U.S. — determined that an initial draft needed to include a ban the continuation of work on Iran’s reactor at Arak, which can produce plutonium, and strip language invoking Iran’s right to enrichment.
U.S. officials also sought on Tuesday to tamp down on the finger-pointing that emerged after media reports this weekend blamed France for the lack of a deal. Kerry stepped up to defend French foreign minister Laurent Fabius, instead saying that Iran didn’t accept the deal offered, which in turn caused Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif to take to Twitter to question Kerry’s statement. “At this point, fault is immaterial,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said at Tuesday’s daily briefing with reporters. “They didn’t agree to an agreement. They’re going to come back next week and continue the discussions and continue the negotiations.”
The next round of negotiations is scheduled to take place in Geneva from Nov. 20–23.