Memo From Geneva: Iran Nuclear Deal in the Balance

Of croissants and centrifuges, and the struggle to seal a deal

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Denis Balibouse / REUTERS

Secretary of State John Kerry arrives at Geneva International airport in Geneva November 23, 2013.

GENEVA — A camouflaged armored personal carrier was parked outside the InterContinental hotel here on Saturday. It was a fitting symbol for the strange dissonance inside the modernist luxury hotel, now occupied by sullen journalists, stern security men and elite diplomats negotiating over the fate of Iran’s outlaw nuclear program.

After stealing a few hours’ sleep on an overnight flight from Washington, Secretary of State John Kerry landed here around 8am and headed straight to the Intercontinental hotel for meetings with U.S. officials who have been talking to the Iranians since Wednesday, along with the fellow foreign ministers swooping in to help close a deal with Tehran.

Precious little hard news is on offer to the dozens of somewhat desperate-seeming journalists here. Meetings begin and they end, out of sight of the media; reporters are left to speculate about their duration while nibbling on exquisite but wildly overpriced croissants. Ministers march swiftly through the lobby without stopping to talk. Now comes French foreign minister Laurent Fabius, rubbing his bald pate as he hustles in from the blustery cold. Now an entourage of Chinese officials, perhaps the only Asians to be found. A woman briefs to a rapt gaggle of journalists, but she appears to be speaking Russian. A group of Israelis speaking loud Hebrew in the bar seems to be having more fun than some reserved Iranian reporters keeping to themselves across the lobby.

But there were hopeful signs of progress towards a deal. Before departing Beijing, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said the Iran talks “reached their final moment.” Britain’s foreign minister told reporters here the differences are narrowing. And in a small blessing for the would-be dealmakers, an Israeli reporter noted, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could not inveigh against negotiations for an afternoon due to the Jewish holy day.

And Kerry’s presence itself seemed quite promising. Would the Secretary of State cross the Atlantic only to come away empty-handed? Well, maybe: Kerry swooped into the last round of talks here earlier this month, to no avail. Perhaps it’s fair to assume he wouldn’t risk coming away empty-handed a second time. Or maybe the peripatetic diplomat simply can’t stay away from the historic action. (“Tell me,” pleads one foreign reporter. “Has Kerry come because there is a deal? Or because he is needed to complete a deal?”)

Kerry’s role is intriguing, but the stakes are massive for President Barack Obama, a president desperately in search of a victory at home or abroad. Any deal struck here would only be in force only for six months—halting the expansion of Iran’s nuclear program in return for modest relief of international sanctions. But it would set the parameters for a larger deal, likely signaling that Iran will be allowed to continue enriching uranium at low levels under strict international inspections.

Such a deal would have been almost unthinkable in the mid 2000s, when the United Nations was demanding that Iran stop its enrichment program entirely and George W. Bush insisted that Iran “must give up its uranium enrichment program and any plutonium reprocessing” (activities which Tehran insists are for peaceful purposes only).

And it will produce cries that Obama’s eagerness—for a political win; for a legacy; for avoiding war—has seduced him into a fool’s bargain. “Obama is in so much of a rush to have a deal with Iran,” the influential Saudi Prince Alaweed bin Talal tells Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg. “He wants anything.”

That’s a view shared not only in Saudi Arabia but also in Israel,and within the U.S. Congress, and not just among Republicans. John Kerry may fly out of Geneva triumphant, with a historic deal in hand. But for Barack Obama, the fight to defend it will have just begun.

This post has been updated.

14 comments
jmac
jmac

Nuclear deal a done deal.  

Fox News can go apoplectic.   The news media can spin and spin and spin.   Netanyahu says it's an early Christmas gift to Iran.

No, it's a holiday gift to the world.   

jmac
jmac

". . .  but the stakes are massive for President Barack Obama"   

Because he'll have to defend a deal if one is done?   What about Germany, China, Britain, France,   Russia?   They're there.  

I'm sure he can defend a deal better than Bush could defend his invasion of Iraq.   

 Is he really "desperately in search of a victory at home or abroad?   Or is the reporter desperately in search of something to write?

  Was there a report that Bush was desperately  in search of a victory when he invaded Iraq and left bin Ladin in Tora Bora?    That was pretty darn desperate.    


JorgeJohnson
JorgeJohnson

Bottom line: ratchet-up the sanctions. Attack Iran when it still does not comply.

Let's get this over with and let's see where that gets us.

Is that the plan?

Mladen
Mladen

American journalists live in a parallel universe. The nuclear negotiators even more so. How can these Shi’a-Islam–Twelver-ignoramuses journalists and diplomats write about or negotiate with people whose beliefs they have never bothered to study? These are not the times of the Policy Planning Staff days when George F. Kennan knew more about the Russians than anybody in the US. Ashton and Kerry are blind as a bat to what the Iranians believe in.

lelandwi11iams
lelandwi11iams

How will TIME MAG help Obama spin this betrayal of Israel?  Right now, the Jews of New York are somber and dull, eating  pork, having supported this betrayal of their relatives.  IRAN will threaten everyone after they get their first bomb.  Believe it.

jmac
jmac

". . .  and George W. Bush insisted that Iran  “must give up its uranium enrichment program and any plutonium reprocessing” 

And then George W. dropped the ball to go after the weak bully with no uranium enrichment program so he could kick some butt as he left Osama bin Ladin and ignored his macho threat of getting him dead or alive.   (Was he listening to Krauthammer who said bin Ladin didn't hit us on 9/ll - that it was the entire Arab Islamic world that hit us).   Yes, Neo cons ruled the day.  

Now's the time.   Before Thanksgiving.  (Just like the change in Senate rules).   Saturday's a good day = Netanyahu's mouth is taped.   If Iran doesn't do it now,   Reid has promised tougher sanctions.  

Happy holidays!     


JohnDavidDeatherage
JohnDavidDeatherage

Perhaps being a Community Organizer is not adequate preparation for being President of the United States.

jmac
jmac

More Thanks giving:  WARSAW — Two weeks of United Nations climate talks ended Saturday with a pair of last-minute deals keeping alive the hope that a global effort can ward off a ruinous rise in temperatures.

jmac
jmac

@lelandwi11iams R. Nicholas Burns, the former under secretary of state for policy during the Bush administration:    "But it’s in the American national interest to try to make this negotiation work. If it’s not in the Israeli interest or the Saudi interest, so be it.”

Netanyahu lost his international cred when he went to bed with his hard-liners.   Let Iran threaten everybody - if they want to commit suicide with a bomb the entire world will come down on them.   

manlyman
manlyman

@JohnDavidDeatherage a dope smoking street punk with a grudge against America, and huge blocs of time unnacounted for. Community organizer is the only name they could come up with.

jmac
jmac

@JohnDavidDeatherage Better than a college prep cheer leader  who never grew up; didn't read Time Magazine or  a paper of note (unless you call the Washington Times a paper), threatened with a macho swagger - and took the entire US and it's reputation down the tubes with his ignorance listening to his Machiavellian mentor and his Neo Con war mongers.  

One of the two got the guy who took our towers down.   Yes, he did.    Maybe he learned that as a Community Organizer.    You don't dump the guy and organization that hit us and go after a weak pathetic dictator just to show your cajones on a landing strip with a Mission Accomplished sign.