Saturday, June 7, 2014

'Officials close to the negotiations tell us that they expect an agreement with Iran will only be reached, at the very last moment.

'After a brief moment of heartfelt national pride over the D-Day commemoration, the more usual partisan bickering has returned over the release of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five Taliban detainees at Guantánamo. Whether or not this affair lingers in the news, it is significant in highlighting – once again – the fragility of the Administration’s political support in Congress. Constant feuding between the White House and Capitol Hill seems likely the remainder of President Obama’s term in office. This bodes ill for any agreement that may emerge from the nuclear talks with Iran. Next week’s P5+1 talks are being joined by Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, a sign that important decisions are now looming. As we have reported before, the principal difference between the two sides is over the residual enrichment capability to be left in Iran’s hands. Officials close to the negotiations tell us that they expect agreement will only be reached – if it is – at the very last moment. This is where its main challenges may start – both in Washington and Tehran. While the Administration can lift some sanctions against Iran by executive order, many others are anchored in statute and will need Congressional cooperation. For this to happen, the Administration needs a rock-solid agreement, something that may be unacceptable to hard-liners in Tehran. By contrast, US officials are encouraged by signs of détente on Ukraine. They feel that the new president Petro Poroshenko is someone with whom both they and the Russians can work. While President Obama had some stern words for Russian President Putin at the G7 meeting, we understand that their brief meeting in the margins of the D-Day ceremonies, while hardly warm, has laid the groundwork for a resumption of more normal relations. The end result of the Ukraine crisis is likely to be greater US attention to Eastern Europe. Turning to Asia, the Pentagon’s annual report on the Chinese military reinforced the trend of a more suspicious US attitude to China. The next milestone will be the Strategic and Economic Dialogue to be held in Beijing in early July (though precise dates have yet to be announced). Meanwhile, in a minor headache for Obama, excerpts from Hillary Clinton's forthcoming autobiography indicate that she advised a more hawkish approach on Syria. While Obama’s more cautious policy resonates well with US public opinion, it attracts strong criticism from the foreign policy elite, thus drawing Obama into a debate he would rather avoid.'

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