White House meets Jewish leaders to press for delay in new Iran sanctions

Share

The White House on Tuesday met with a small group of Jewish leaders as part of an intensifying effort to press for a delay in new Iran sanctions it fears could derail negotiations with Iran on a possible nuclear deal.

National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, Deputy National Security Advisors Antony Blinken and Ben Rhodes briefed leaders from the Jewish groups on the Iran negotiations to date.

“Following on the recent P5+1 talks with Iran, and in advance of the next round of talks November 7-8, Senior Administration Officials today briefed the leaders of several Jewish organizations on our progress,” National Security Staff spokesperson Bernadette Meehan told A-Monitor Tuesday.  “The administration officials made clear that the United States will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon, and that our preference is to resolve the issue peacefully through diplomacy.  The meeting was constructive and we look forward to continuing these discussions going forward.”

“We had a constructive and open exchange and agreed to continue the consultation to enhance the prospect of achieving a transparent and effective diplomatic resolution,” a statement from the Jewish leaders who attended the meeting Tuesday said. “We welcome the reaffirmation of the President’s commitment to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear capability and that all options remain viable to assure that end.”

Participants in the off record discussion, which was first reported by JTA, included leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee, and AIPAC, the statement said.

The Obama administration has been waging a more vigorous effort to try to push back against new Iran sanctions legislation under consideration by the Senate Banking committee, arguing there should be a pause in new sanctions through the fall, while maintaining existing major oil and banking sanctions, to give momentum to negotiations and test if Iran is serious about making a nuclear compromise. The administration wants a “pause” on new sanctions until January to try to come to closure on a possible confidence building measure, and they feel new sanctions now could derail that effort, sources briefed on the discussions said.

As part of that effort, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Sherman, the lead US negotiator, have been doing classified briefings on the Hill this week, sources said. Lew and Secretary of State John Kerry are due to brief Senators on Iran in closed session on Thursday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has recently argued that the only acceptable deal with Iran is one that would permit no enrichment and zero centrifuges. Current and former American officials and even some former Israeli officials contend that a zero enrichment deal is unachievable, and wonder if Netanyahu intends to try to spoil a possible deal that could increase the amount of time it would take for Iran to have potential nuclear breakout capability.

A good if imperfect negotiated solution is superior to the alternative options available, former top State Department Iran nonproliferation official Robert Einhorn argued in a paper delivered in Israel last week, noting increased pressure from the US now could fracture the international community and push Iran to escalate by increasing its enrichment activities.

“At a minimum, the Israelis want us to bargain very hard,” Einhorn, now with the Brookings Institution, told Al-Monitor in an interview Tuesday. “And I think they see their tough position as a way of strengthening our resolve. But whether at the end of the day they would be content with less than [the] maximalist approach is hard to tell at this point.”

The Obama “administration wants to test Iranian willingness to accept significant constraints on its nuclear program in order to get relief from sanctions,” Einhorn said. “And so it’s prepared to [see]… how far they are prepared to go to meet US concerns.”

President Obama “has welcomed an opportunity to try to put to the test whether or not Iran really desires to pursue only a peaceful program,” Secretary Kerry told the Ploughshares Fund  Monday.   Continue reading

Appointments: Beers may go to White House, Kaidanow for State CT

With the White House nomination of Jeh Johnson to be Secretary of Homeland Security, multiple administration sources say they expect acting DHS Secretary Rand Beers to join the National Security/White House staff as a senior advisor on counterterrorism issues to National Security Advisor Susan Rice.

Beers, confirmed as DHS Undersecretary for the National Protection and Programs Directorate in 2009, has served since September as acting DHS Secretary since the departure of Janet Napolitano to head the University of California, and before that, as acting deputy Secretary, after the departure of Jane Holl Lute last May. He did not respond to a query from the Back Channel.

Beers worked closely with Rice as a foreign policy and intelligence advisor to Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, and served as co-chair of the Obama/Biden DHS Transition team. He previously served in the NSC of four presidential administrations, and in multiple senior roles in the State Department, including as assistant secretary for international narcotics and law enforcement and counter-terrorism coordinator. A former Marine Corps officer who served in Vietnam, Beers resigned from the Bush NSC in March 2003, coinciding with the US invasion of Iraq, and later served as foreign policy advisor to John Kerry’s unsuccessful 2004 presidential campaign.

The White House declined to comment, saying they have no new appointments to announce at this time. White House sources previously said they expected Lisa Monaco to remain as the top White House advisor on counter-terrorism and intelligence issues, and it’s unclear exactly what Beers’ title will be. Associates said Beers was one of the few people in Washington who didn’t care about his title.

“When Rand was my boss, he always said there is no limit to what you can accomplish [in Washington] if you are willing to let someone else get the credit,” Heather Hurlburt, who worked with Beers at the progressive National Security Network, said Tuesday.

As the Back Channel previously reported, Rice is also bringing on Rob Malley to advise her and the NSS on Iran and Syria, sources said. The appointment, also not yet announced, is a “done deal,” but may await some final administrative work, one former official told the Back Channel Monday. Malley did not respond to queries.

*

Deputy US Ambassador to Afghanistan Tina Kaidanow is expected to be nominated to be the next State Department Counter-Terrorism Coordinator, multiple officials tell the Back Channel.

Kaidanow, a former US Ambassador to Kosovo, previously served as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasian Affairs, as Deputy Chief of Mission in Bosnia and in Kosovo, and as a special assistant to Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott. She did not respond to a query from the Back Channel. If confirmed, Kaidanow, a career foreign service officer, will head the State CT bureau that includes senior advisors Eric Rosand and Michael Jacobson.

*

Kurt Kessler, deputy counselor to the US mission to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, is expected to join the White House WMD coordinator shop as an Iran non-proliferation expert. Kessler, a former Middle East and Iran analyst in the State Department’s International Security and Nonproliferation Bureau and before that at the Agency, is considered one of the most knowledgeable experts on Iran’s nuclear program in the US government, associates said. He did not respond to a query.

(Photo of Rand Beers, acting Homeland Security Secretary, from his DHS biography.)

Obama officials ask Congress to delay new Iran sanctions


The Obama administration is asking Congress to delay new economic sanctions on Iran in order to give momentum to negotiations on a possible nuclear compromise.

“We think that this is a time for a pause [in new sanctions], to see if these negotiations can gain traction,” Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told the Voice of America Persian Service in an interview Friday.

Members of Congress have “been very effective partners as we’ve tried to approach this negotiation,” she said. “We need them to continue to be effective partners to reach a successful conclusion, and I have trust that they will be.”

Three White House officials—Jake Sullivan, national security advisor to Vice President Joe Biden, Phil Gordon, the National Security Staff Coordinator for the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, and NSS Senior Director for Persian Gulf Affairs Puneet Talwar – met with aides to Senate leaders on Thursday to press for a delay in new Iran sanctions legislation being considered by the Senate Banking Committee, a Senate staffer said.

Sherman also briefed House leaders earlier this week on her negotiations with Iran and other members of the P5+1 in Geneva last week.

Diplomats from Iran and the P5+1 are due to hold another round of negotiations in Geneva November 7-8.

Technical talks involving nuclear and sanctions experts from Iran and the P5+1 will be held in Vienna October 30-31, the office of European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said Friday.

The US team to the technical talks in Vienna will include Sherman’s deputy and top advisor on arms control issues James Timbie, State Department deputy Iran sanctions official Richard Nephew, who previously served at the NSC and Energy Department; and Treasury Department sanctions office chief Adam Szubin, US officials told Al-Monitor. (Meantime, State Department Iran sanctions czar Daniel Fried was in Europe this week for consultations with European counterparts on the EU sanctions regime.) Iran’s delegation to the Vienna talks will be led by Hamid Baidinejad, the Iran Foreign Ministry director of political and international development, Nasim reported, adding that the Iranian team will include legal, nuclear, technical and economic experts.

Israeli diplomats, in Washington for consultations this week, urged their US counterparts to press for a deal that would dismantle as much as possible of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, including its entire domestic enrichment program. They also pressed for no let-up in existing sanctions for nuclear concessions that Iran might agree to make in an interim deal, including suspending 20% enrichment.

“Nuclear energy without enrichment is the only reasonable compromise,” Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz told Al-Monitor Tuesday. Iran is entitled to “civilian nuclear energy. …The only request, is that they buy nuclear fuel from” abroad.

Iranian diplomats told their P5+1 counterparts at meetings in Geneva this month that they would be willing to discuss various elements of Iran’s nuclear program to find a compromise to address international concerns, but did not offer a very concrete, detailed proposal, several diplomats said.

The P5+1 have asked Iran to bring a more concrete proposal to the next meetings, the diplomatic sources said.

Sherman, in her VOA interview, also seemed to express regret for her comments at a Senate hearing last month that deception is in the Iranian DNA.

“I chose some words in response to a member of the Senate that I think caused some concern,” Sherman told VOA’s Siamak Dehghanpour. “And I think that those words spoke to this deep mistrust that President [Barack] Obama [has] discussed… We have to really work to get over that mistrust, and I think these nuclear negotiations will help us to do so.”

Israel Intel Minister: Not pessimistic about Iran deal

img class=”alignnone” alt=”” src=”http://cdn.timesofisrael.com/uploads/2013/10/F131013FFMS08-e1381657901182-635×357.jpg” width=”635″ height=”357″ />
Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz said Tuesday that he believes Iran is “serious” about wanting to make a nuclear deal to save its economy. But he pressed for no let-up in economic pressure unless Iran agrees to terms for a deal that many US national security experts believe could preclude a diplomatic compromise.

“I think they are serious,” Steinitz, speaking to al-Monitor in an interview Tuesday, said of the Iranians. “They want an agreement.”

But the deal they are aiming for, he said, is a “North Korea-type,” under which Iran would freeze, rather than dismantle, major elements of its nuclear program, and offer “better inspections procedures.”

“Nuclear energy without enrichment is the only reasonable compromise,” he said.

Steinitz was in Washington leading an Israeli delegation attending two days of high-level talks with US counterparts as part of the US-Israel Strategic Dialogue. US Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns and Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman addressed the gathering Wednesday, the State Department said.

Sherman led the US delegation to P5+1 talks with Iran in Geneva last week in which the Iranians “were saying they are ready to discuss” various elements of a potential nuclear compromise, Steinitz said. Though their proposal was not very detailed, Steinitz said he understood, he said he did not interpret that necessarily as a sign of lack of seriousness.

“I am not pessimistic,” Steinitz said. Iran's economic problems have brought Iranian leaders to realize they have a “dilemma,” he said. “If it’s put to them, ‘Look, the time to maneuver… is over. After ten years of negotiations… enough is enough. You have to make a decision. You want to save the Iranian economy? You have to give up your military nuclear project on all its components. You choose to continue with your military nuclear program? You will destroy the Iranian economy,” or face possible military action.

Steinitz, in the interview, argued against any sort of interim deal that might offer Iran an easing of sanctions in exchange for nuclear concessions. The concern, he said, is that once any sanctions are eased, the entire sanctions regime will crumble, and won’t be able to be ramped back up if Iran backslides on the agreement.

Continue reading

U.S. negotiator to brief Congress on Iran talks

Lead U.S. Iran negotiator, Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, is expected to brief Congressional leaders and relevant committee chiefs in classified session this week on the talks between six world powers and Iran held in Geneva last week.

In a brief conversation last week that did not delve into the details of the Iranian proposal, Sherman told House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking Democrat Eliot Engel “that the Iranians appeared serious,” but cautioned that the “devil’s in the details and made clear that the US negotiators will remain clear eyed as they seek to negotiate a deal to end Iran’s nuclear weapons program,” Engel said in a statement.

“Ranking Member Engel was pleased that the P5+1 reportedly had a productive first round of negotiations with the Iranians in Geneva,” spokesman Daniel Harsha told Al-Monitor Monday.  “But a change in tone is hardly sufficient. He believes pressure brought Iran to the table, and that pressure must be maintained until Iran has verifiably dismantled its nuclear weapons program.“

“The Iranians are masters at negotiation for the sake of buying time,” Harsha said.  “Given that, Ranking Member Engel would only be open to freezing further legislative action on the new sanctions bill if Iran quickly takes a number of concrete and fully verifiable steps to freeze enrichment and other elements of its nuclear weapons program. And he won’t even consider easing sanctions already on the books until Iran verifiably dismantles their program, leaving absolutely no possibility of a rapid ‘breakout.’”

Diplomats from the six world powers and Iran have agreed not to publicize the details of the Iranian proposal presented in two days of talks in Geneva last week (Oct. 15-16).

The new Iranian proposal “appears to have addressed some of our concerns, while leaving others unaddressed,” a senior US official, speaking not for attribution, told Al-Monitor Monday. “That is what the upcoming talks will further flesh out. …[The process] has begun and now we need to see what the coming weeks will bring.”

Iran's deputy nuclear negotiators for the first time met with their US counterparts one on one for an hour in Geneva, and conducted the negotiations with their P5+1 counterparts in English, facilitating the pace and candor of the negotiations, western diplomats said.

But western diplomats were cautious in characterizing their reaction to the undisclosed Iranian proposal, describing a deal as still likely some ways off.

“We learned more about their program and their concerns,” a senior western diplomat told journalists in Brussels last week, Reuters reported. “However, it doesn't mean we are close to a solution and that we will have an agreement next month.”

We “got more today than we have ever gotten before, but there’s still a whole lot more we have to get,” a senior US administration official told journalists in Geneva last week, calling the process a “beginning.”

Regarding the seemingly lukewarm reaction, the US official said Monday to keep in mind that it’s not in the P5+1’s interest to sound overly enthusiastic about what the Iranians put on the table, “either from a negotiating perspective….or our own domestic politics.”

The administration would be “concerned about not looking gullible to Congress,” agreed Mark Fitzpatrick, a former State Department nonproliferation official now with the Institute for International and Strategic Studies (IISS) in London, in an interview Monday. Continue reading

US and Iran Speak ‘Same Language’ in Nuclear Talks

20131017-144031.jpg

Geneva__ Western and Iranian diplomats hailed a new pace, candor and mutual will to try to forge a process to resolve international concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, but acknowledged they were at the beginning of a still complex and difficult negotiation whose success is not guaranteed.

“The good news, we are getting to a place where one can imagine we could possibly have a process that could lead to an agreement,” a senior US administration official, speaking not for attribution, told journalists Wednesday at the end of two days of nuclear negotiations here, the first since the June election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

“I have never had such intense, detailed, straight-forward, candid conversations with the Iran delegation before,” the American official said. “The discussions took place in English…the pace of discussions was much better. It creates the ability to have a back and forth.”

“There are [still] serious differences.” the U.S. official said. We “got more today than we have ever gotten before, but there’s still a whole lot more we have to get.”

“Both sides are serious, both sides want to find common ground,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, speaking in English, told journalists at a press conference at the conclusion of talks here. “Iran is interested in resolving this issue.”

Zarif, at the Geneva talks, “presented an outline of a plan as a proposed basis for negotiations, which is being carefully considered” by the six world powers, Catherine Ashton, European Union foreign policy chief, told a press conference here Wednesday, part of a rare joint statement by Iran and the so-called P5+1.

The two sides agreed to meet again in Geneva Nov. 7-8, and said that technical experts on both the nuclear and sanctions issues would be meeting before that.

The US official suggested that it would probably be premature for P5+1 foreign ministers and US Secretary of State John Kerry to lead delegations to the next Geneva meeting in just three weeks time, given that there are still so many complex technical, and more fundamental, issues to resolve. The new Iranian leadership had previously expressed the conviction that progress could be made more quickly at the ministerial level. But Zarif on Wednesday struck a diplomatic tone, expressing satisfaction with how the negotiations had been conducted here, often by deputies, and said foreign ministers could be summoned when needed.

“We are prepared to meet at the ministerial level whenever necesaary,” Zarif said. “I am content with the last few days, how colleagues were able to conduct the negotiations…it was a serious and substantive negotiation. …But I think at a certain stage, [the negotiations] will need more political direction.”

The two sides also agreed not to publicly disclose the details of the Iranian proposal, given the sensitivity of the issues involved, both in Iran and foreign capitals.

“The details require serious and in depth negotiations,” Zarif said. “We will be doing the negotiations in the negotiating room, not [in public, and] through the press. The seriousness and importance of the details requires us to be very vigilant.”

One party not at the talks that is unlikely to patiently await the details to be worked out before moving forward with new sanctions is Congress. The senior US official said she would be probably be briefing members behind closed doors in classified session upon her return.

“If we have what I call the high class problem of a verifiable and sound agreement that addresses all of the international community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program and assures the world [Iran won’t get a nuclear weapon], I feel confident that everyone engaged in this process will support that outcome, including the U.S. Congress,” the American official said. “None of us want to undo the [sanctions architecture] in place before we have results.”

“Overall, there was modest progress,” Ali Vaez, senior Iran researcher at the International Crisis Group, told Al-Monitor Wednesday. “The very fact that the two sides are speaking the same language after all these years…..is the most we could expect from these two days of talks.”

Zarif conducted his press conference Wednesdsy, speaking in both fluent English and Persian, from a wheel chair, having traveled to Geneva with severe back pain, accompanied by a doctor. The American official said many of the diplomats here, fellow veterans of constant air travel and chronic back pain, had expressed their empathy to Zarif and recommended to him various remedies.

“Not one of us doesn’t have a back problem,” the US official said, saying Zarif had told them he had undergone an acupuncture treatment today. Diplomatic colleagues here offered him “books they thought he should read, things he might try. …We all have suffered.”

(Photo of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaking in Geneva October 16, 2013. By Reuters.)

Diplomats: Follow on Iran nuclear talks in Geneva in November

Geneva__ Nuclear negotiators from Iran and six world powers will hold follow on talks here in Geneva Nov. 7-8, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton announced here Wednesday at the conclusion of two days of what she called very intensive, substantive and forward-looking talks.

During two days of “substantive and forward looking negotiations,” Ashton said in a rare joint statement by the six powes and Iran, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad “Zarif presented the outline of a plan as a proposed basis for negotiotians which are being carefully considered by” the six powers.

The parties have agreed not to disclose the details of the Iranian proposal, both negotiators said.

“We sense that members of the 3+3 also have exhibited the necessary political will in order to move the process forward and now we have to get to the details,” Zarif, speaking in English, told journalists at a press conference at the conclusion of talks.

“The details require serious and in depth negotiations,” Zarif said, adding they will be doing the negotiations in the negotiating room and not through the press.

Iran would like the next meeting to be held at the foreign minister level, a western diplomat told al-Monitor Tuesday.

Diplomats from the P5+1 and Iran are wrapping up two days of talks here during which Iran presented a nuclear proposal that western officials called ‘very useful’ and detailed.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif are expected to

The parties will meet “in a couple weeks in Geneva to give the P5+1 enough time to come with a response” to the nuclear proposal that Iran presented here this week, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote on his Facebook page Wednesday.

“As I have said before, the negotiations are going to be difficult and will require a lot of time and focus,” he continued, writing in Persian. “You cannot have the expectation that without trust [the parties] will be able to reach an understanding in one meeting,” even one conducted in a positive atmosphere.

Breaking: Iran, US hold direct talks in Geneva

br />
20131015-201527.jpg

Geneva__ The U.S. and Iranian nuclear negotiating teams met here for one hour this evening, Iranian and American officials confirmed to Al-Monitor, in an exchange American officials described as “useful.”

“As had been expected, Under Secretary [Wendy] Sherman and members of the US delegation held a bilateral meeting with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister [Abbas] Araqchi and members of the Iranian delegation tonight, as the Iranians are doing with a number of delegations during these talks,” a senior State Department official said.

“The meeting took place at the UN Palais des Nations and lasted for approximately one hour,” the U.S. official said. “The discussion was useful, and we look forward to continuing our discussions in tomorrow's meetings with the full P5+1 and Iran.”

Deputy Iranian negotiator Abbas Araghchi told Al-Monitor late Tuesday that the meeting with the Americans was good, and helped them further clarify positions.

Iran's deputy foreign minister for European and American Affairs, Majid Takht Ravanchi, speaking briefly to Al-Monitor after the talks Tuesday, described the bilateral meeting with the Americans as 'no big deal,' and 'useful.' Ravanchi, who said he was educated in Lawrence, Kansas, before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, told Al-Monitor that after the meeting with the Americans, the Iranians held a bilateral meeting with the Russians.

Iran's Fars News first reported the two teams were set to meet shortly. An Iranian official, asked about the report, confirmed it, saying the Iran side in the meeting with the Americans was led by deputy foreign minister Araghchi.

US Secretary of State John Kerry met for thirty minutes with Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in New York last month. Noting the meeting, and the historic phone call between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and President Obama, a senior U.S. Administration official told journalists Monday that “rubicon” had been crossed.

“This is a direct consequence of Rouhani and Obama breaking the taboo,” Ali Vaez, senior Iran analyst at the International Crisis Group, said of the US-Iranian meeting here Tuesday.

The senior State Department official agreed Tueaday's meeting was built on those previous two exchanges, and said it “demonstrates our continued commitment to bilateral engagement within the context of the P5+1.”

Western officials praised Iran's presentation of its nuclear proposal to six world powers Tuesday as 'very useful' and very detailed, but have so far relayed few of its contents.

Talks are due to continue here on Wednesday.

Diplomatic sources suggested there was likely to be a follow on meeting in Geneva in a couple weeks. The Iranians would like Kerry and other Foreign Ministers to attend, and he would like to, sources said.

(Top photo: Iran presented a new nuclear proposal to six world powers in Geneva Tuesday. Second photo, Secretary of State John Kerry, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, deputy Iranian negotiators Majid Ravanchi and Abbas Araghchi seated between them against the wall at a meeting in New York September 24, 2013.)

20131015-214333.jpgzp8497586rq