When U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry left the Middle East for Geneva at the end of last week, he was flying high from a major smackdown of Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
It appears he ran out of gas, however, once he arrived in Geneva.
There was the deal with Iran that Kerry was trying to push through, that is until the French – the French! – had the fortitude to not just reject, but to publicly blast as a sucker’s deal. That deal foundered, and eventually all the players rolled up their rugs and regrouped until the next head banging session, which will take place next week.
At the same time that Kerry was meeting with his colleagues in the P5+1 group (the other 4 permanent members of the UN Security Council, Russia, China, United Kingdom, France, plus Germany) in Geneva, he was also spending time on the telephone in a concerted effort to persuade the relevant folks on the Senate banking committee to refrain from passing new sanctions against Iran. That committee’s House of Representatives counterpart had already passed such a measure during the summer.
In today’s State Department press conference, spokesperson Jen Psaki confirmed that Kerry spoke with key senators Menendez, Graham , Levin, Schumer, and Reid last week, as part of his continuing efforts to block the Senate side of the Banking Committee from passing additional sanctions.
But as one of the journalists pointed out, on Monday, Senator Menendez (D-NJ), had an op-ed in USA Today, explaining exactly why increased sanctions at this time is the only way to ensure that Iran will recognize the seriousness with which the global community takes its responsibility to rid the world of an impending mortal threat.
Menendez is not only a member of the Senate Banking Committee, he is also chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He wrote:
Today, Iran has reluctantly arrived at the negotiating table because of tough sanctions imposed by the international community and the U.S. Congress — the same sanctions that critics long opposed.
Iran is on the ropes because of its intransigent policies and our collective will, and it would be imprudent to want an agreement more than the Iranians do.
Tougher sanctions will serve as an incentive for Iran to verifiably dismantle its nuclear weapons program. When Iran complies, sanctions can be unwound and economic relief will follow.
This approach is in concert with our diplomatic efforts and consistent with previous actions taken by the international community. It’s a necessary insurance policy, too. Should Iran fail to negotiate in good faith or abide by any agreement, the penalties will be severe.
Menendez acknowledged that it was appropriate for the world’s diplomats to be engaging in what they do best: diplomacy. But he also reminded everyone that Congress needs to do what it deems necessary so that “the Iranians know what awaits if it continues its to-date unabated pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability.”
Kerry’s next step is a critical one. While there is bipartisan support for a bill which increases sanctions against Iran – albeit with a trigger date that is not immediate, and which can be dialed back if Iran complies with terms deemed acceptable to the west, the banking committee has agreed it will not vote on the legislation until Kerry meets with them. That meeting is scheduled for Wednesday.
This administration relentlessly pointed to its foreign policy cornerstone as the “biting sanctions” which brought Iran back to the negotiating table during last year’s campaign season. However, this administration now appears to be in a bigger rush to close a deal, even a “very, very bad deal,” to quote Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, than to ensure it has a verifiable and tightly-woven agreement with a very dangerous enemy.
To quote a Democrat, Bob Menendez, “Iran is on the ropes because of its intransigent policies and our collective will, and it would be imprudent to want an agreement more than the Iranians do.”
Kerry is likely to be joined by Vice President Joe Biden for the meeting with the Senate banking committee members. That negotiation may be as tough as ones going on in Geneva. The signal from the White House is that members who insist on voting for stiff sanctions will be portrayed as warmongers.
Lori Lowenthal Marcus