Bipartisan Group Issues Letter on Proposed Iran Nuclear Deal; Consistent with Administration's Goals

With just days remaining before the deadline for a nuclear agreement between the United States, the remaining nations in the P5+1 and Iran, a bipartisan group of American diplomats, legislators, policymakers and experts have issued a public statement endorsing U.S. policy towards the negotiations. The statement, issued by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, was signed by a wide range of well-respected leaders in the field, including David Petraeus, Howard Berman, Joe Lieberman, Dennis Ross, Steve Hadley Bob Einhorn, Gary Samore, and David Makovsky. The statement reads, in part:

[The agreement will] reduce that infrastructure for the next 10 to 15 years. And it will impose a transparency, inspection, and consequences regime with the goal of deterring and dissuading Iran from actually building a nuclear weapon.

The agreement does not purport to be a comprehensive strategy towards Iran. It does not address Iran’s support for terrorist organizations (like Hezbollah and Hamas), its interventions in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen (its “regional hegemony”), its ballistic missile arsenal, or its oppression of its own people. The U.S. administration has prioritized negotiations to deal with the nuclear threat, and hopes that an agreement will positively influence Iranian policy in these other areas...

Taking the actions we propose while the nuclear negotiations continue will reinforce the message that Iran must comply with any agreement and will not be allowed to pursue a nuclear weapon. This will increase, not decrease, the chance that Iran will comply with the agreement and may ultimately adopt a more constructive role in the region. For the U.S. administration’s hopes in this respect have little chance so long as Iran’s current policy seems to be succeeding in expanding its influence.

In a media briefing following the statement's release, White House press secretary Josh Earnest stated that the letter is "broadly consistent" with the administration's framework. Lindsay Dunsmuir at Reuters writes:

A letter published on Wednesday by a group of prominent former aides to President Barack Obama on Iran that urges a robust nuclear deal is "broadly consistent" with the U.S. administration's negotiation framework announced in April, the White House said on Thursday.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the letter put no additional pressure on negotiators attempting to conclude a deal that would curb Iran's nuclear program in exchange for relief from economic sanctions that have crippled its economy.

During a media briefing this week, State Department press secretary John Kirby was asked about the letter. He responded:

I think the Secretary’s reaction was – when he looked at the letter – that he didn’t find that there was a whole lot of daylight between our position and the nuclear talks and what’s laid out in this letter. In fact, many of the positions – if you go and look at it – you’ll see that many of them are very much aligned with the same sorts of things that we’ve been talking about in the context of these negotiations.

And as we said before, in any final deal, we’re going to be holding ourselves and Iran to the understandings that we reached in Lausanne, which is at least as high a standard as what is proposed in this letter.

The statement has garnered a wide range of media attention since it's release earlier this week. Karl Vick of Time Magazine writes:

Much is made of how skillful the Iranians are at negotiating—and they are. But the Americans aren’t bad either, at least by the evidence of the latest news from the nuclear talks: an open letter signed by 18 former U.S. officials and experts, including five former advisers to President Obama, warning the president against accepting a deal that fails to include certain vital elements, such as inspections of Iranian military bases and ensuring that relief from sanctions comes only after Iran complies with an agreement.

It’s not the kind of thing you see much in American foreign policy—a group advisory like this, setting out red lines and reminding the nation’s leader of his obligations. You do, however, see it all the time somewhere else—in the Islamic Republic of Iran...

The point, though, is not what American officials read, but what Iranian officials read: “The Public Statement on U.S. Policy Toward the Iran Nuclear Negotiations Endorsed by a Bipartisan Group of American Diplomats, Legislators and Experts,” the heading of the open letter compiled by the impressive, and impressively bi-partisan group assembled by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank. It’s the kind of discourse that speaks to Iranians, relatable and familiar. Which is fortunate, because while its authors addressed it to President Obama, the real audience was Khamenei and the rest of the government of Iran...

Knowing when to exploit an opening is, of course, one mark of a formidable negotiator. But another is speaking to the other side in a language it understands—which is exactly what the U.S. side is doing with its own Open Letter.

In Foreign Policy, signers of the statement tell John Hudson that the perception by some that the letter was meant to criticize and oppose negotiations is patently false. Hudson writes:

The White House insists that the five demands outlined by the group match the priorities that U.S. negotiators are seeking in Vienna. Yet media coverage of the letter has led many to believe that Obama’s former advisors have lost trust in the president’s negotiating team. Two signers of the letter say that’s patently false.

“That’s not at all what the statement was about,” said Einhorn, a nonproliferation expert and a co-signer of the letter.

“The key thing is not that there were some former Obama officials raising questions,” he added. “The key thing is you have this diverse group coming together on a set of reasonable and achievable recommendations.”

Unlike a recently circulated set of demands by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Einhorn noted that the letter he signed doesn’t include so-called “poison pills” that Iran would never conceivably agree to.

The bipartisan group demands that international monitors have “timely and effective access” to any military or nonmilitary sites needed to verify Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal being negotiated by Tehran and six world powers. It also calls for strict limits on the research and development of advanced centrifuges, the ability to quickly reimpose sanctions if Iran violates the terms of a deal, and gradual, not immediate, economic sanctions relief for Tehran...

[Another signer] said the letter meant to bring Democrats and Republicans together around a simple set of “achievable goals” to demonstrate a bipartisan path to a deal.

“If the deal is a good one, the administration will benefit from the support of this bipartisan group,” he said. “If the deal is not a good one, the administration will have to contend with the group. But the president has made clear that he will only do a good deal, and I take him at his word...”

When asked about the letter, a State Department spokeswoman did not view it as an indictment of the ongoing negotiations, which face a June 30 deadline.

“The positions called for in this document are very much aligned with what we’re insisting upon behind closed doors,” spokeswoman Marie Harf told FP. “‎In any final deal, we’ll be holding ourselves, and Iran, to the understandings we reached in Lausanne, which is at least as high a standard as what is proposed in this letter.”