So the Obama administration is, after all, capable of tough, bull-necked diplomacy. These guys go for the jugular—for them diplomacy is a blood sport where anything is licit so long as victory is the endgame. Too bad the White House deploys those skills not against U.S. adversaries but against allies like Israel and France.
Haaretz reports that the administration misled Israel regarding the terms of the proposed interim agreement with Iran over its nuclear weapons program. One senior Israeli official explained that on Wednesday Israel had seen an outline that the Israelis “didn't love but could live with.” Thursday morning French and British officials, and not the White House, told the Israelis that the terms had changed and were much more favorable than what they’d been shown previously. “Suddenly it changed to something much worse that included a much more significant lifting of sanctions,” said the Israeli official. “The feeling was that the Americans are much more eager to reach an agreement than the Iranians.”
When Kerry landed in Geneva Friday, only a few small details were left to sort out before striking an agreement. But the problem wasn’t the Iranian side, rather it was France that wouldn’t sign off on the “bracketed text” in the draft document. In other words, after misleading the Israelis, the administration had hoped to present the deal as a fait accompli. In scuttling the agreement, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius saved the day—for the time being.
Fabius explained that France wouldn’t accept a “sucker’s deal”—namely, one that would allow the Iranians to continue enriching uranium, manufacturing centrifuges, and constructing a plutonium reactor at Arak, while providing immediate sanctions relief and unfreezing billions of dollars in oil revenues. Some are suggesting that France blocked the accord because of its arms deals with Saudi Arabia. Iranian officials contend that it must be the Zionists who brainwashed Fabius. Others think it must have something to do with Syria and how the White House hung French president François Hollande out to dry after Obama said he was going to strike Bashar al-Assad, won Hollande’s support, and then backed down. It could even be, as president of the National Iranian American Council Trita Parsi tweeted, that Fabius “simply has racist hatred for Iranians.” In short, there must be some really nefarious and top-secret explanation for the intransigence of the French, because they can’t possibly object to the deal on its merits.
“We are not blind,” Kerry said after the deal fell apart, “and I don’t think we’re stupid.” But the administration is deceitful, arrogant, and incompetent—a dysfunctional combination in international affairs. Now everyone, including U.S. lawmakers, is going to be watching the next round of negotiations, scheduled for November 20, very closely, especially Israel and France. Hollande is scheduled to visit Israel next week and to speak in front of the Knesset, where he’ll no doubt be warmly received and encouraged to hold the line. It’s possible the French will cave—the White House is likely exerting a great deal of pressure—but theoretically there’s no reason that Paris can’t maintain its position indefinitely.