Apr 4, 2022

The Iran Nuclear Deal negotiations.

The Iran Nuclear Deal negotiations.

Plus, what is the Republican party platform?

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 12 minutes.

The Iran Nuclear Deal negotiations. Plus, a question about the Republican party platform.

Iran's new president Ebrahim Raisi. Photo: Mohammed Ali Marizad
Iran's new president Ebrahim Raisi. Photo: Mohammed Ali Marizad

Ramadan Mubarak.

This week marks the beginning of Ramadan, a monthlong period observed by Muslims worldwide to fast, pray, reflect and focus on their community. Many Muslims will be refraining from food or water between sunrise and sundown each day. So I’d like to wish any readers observing a “Ramadan Mubarak” and a meaningful month of prayer and reflection.


Quick hits.

  1. U.S. employers added 431,000 jobs in March as the unemployment rate fell to 3.6%, just above the 50-year-low of 3.5% before the pandemic. The nation has recouped 20.4 million, or 93%, of the 22 million jobs lost early on in the pandemic. (The numbers)
  2. Six people were killed and 12 were injured in a mass shooting in downtown Sacramento early Sunday morning. (The shooting)
  3. At least two people were killed and 15 injured after Israeli forces raided a Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank following a string of deadly attacks inside Israel that left 11 people dead. (The violence)
  4. Amazon workers voted to unionize at a Staten Island warehouse, the first unionization of its kind at Amazon. (The vote)
  5. Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced he had purchased a 9.2% stake in the social media platform Twitter. (The purchase)
  6. Former President Trump has endorsed Sarah Palin in the Alaska House race to replace Rep. Don Young, who died last month. (The endorsement)
  7. Ukraine accused Russia of deliberate killings of civilians in cities around the capital of Kyiv, including Bucha, saying the bodies of 410 civilians have been found. (The allegations)

Our 'Quick Hits' section is created in partnership with Ground News, a website and app that rates the bias of news coverage and news outlets.


Today's topic.

The Iran Nuclear Deal. For the past several months, the Biden administration and the European Union have been negotiating to reinstate the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, informally known as the Iran Nuclear Deal. The E.U. is coordinating the talks between Iran and other signers of the original 2015 deal: Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China, The Washington Post reported. Iran has refused to negotiate directly with the United States, even though the two are the principal parties to the agreement.

A brief refresher: We covered these talks last year. The Iran deal was signed in 2015, and the rough outlines of it were designed to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear capability. Iran had to cut its stockpile of enriched uranium, the key ingredient in nuclear weapons, and also allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to have regular access to and conduct inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities. In exchange, the U.S. and other European nations lifted economic sanctions on Iran that freed up Iranian money frozen in overseas accounts.

Former President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the deal in 2018, citing its shortcomings: that it didn’t allow the inspection of military sites, that the so-called “sunset provisions” allowed the deal to expire, that it didn’t address Iran’s ballistic missile program and that it did nothing to limit Iran’s influence in the Middle East through the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, which funds paramilitary groups, proxy groups and terrorism across the region. He also accused Iran of cheating on the deal.

Trump replaced the deal with a so-called "maximum pressure campaign" that included crippling sanctions on Iran. The Trump administration also leveled air strikes against Iranian leaders, including the assassination of General Qassim Suleimani and the United States’ alleged approval of the assassination of a nuclear scientist named Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

What is happening now: Iran has continued to enrich uranium while simultaneously denying that it is planning a nuclear bomb. Experts have warned that Iran could be weeks away from having the requisite uranium to fuel a nuclear weapon. The U.N. atomic watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, has said it has not found any evidence that Iran is making a nuclear bomb, which would still take months after acquiring enough uranium. Meanwhile, Iran has continued to fund proxies and terrorism in the Middle East, and its attacks on U.S. facilities and personnel in Iraq have increased over the last few years.

While a deal is reportedly on the verge of being sealed, there is one major sticking point remaining: The U.S. designation of the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization. The IRGC is Iran's most powerful security force and is tasked with maintaining order domestically and running military operations abroad — with the primary goal of preserving the Islamic political system in Iran. The terrorist designation is the first time the U.S. government has marked any branch of a foreign military that way. Removing the designation is opposed by many Republicans, a few Democrats, and some close foreign allies like Israel.

The U.S. has accused the IRGC of killing hundreds of Americans, and its elite Quds force has supported proxy forces fighting in Syria and across the Middle East.

The IRGC also complicated talks by claiming responsibility for a missile attack in northern Iraq this month that targeted an Israeli compound and landed near a U.S. consulate under construction, according to The Wall Street Journal. There have also been reports that the IRGC was targeting former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other U.S. officials for killing Suleimani, the former commander of the Quds Force.

Below, we'll take a look at some arguments about rejoining the deal, as well as delisting the IRGC as a terrorist organization. Then my take. You can see our previous coverage, including some takes from Iran, here.


What the right is saying.

  • The right is generally opposed to reviving a deal, arguing that it will hurt the United States' standing globally.
  • Some say the dynamics have changed since the war in Ukraine began.
  • Others argue that the IRGC should remain on the terrorist list regardless.

In The New York Times, Bret Stephens said: A year ago, the deal may have made sense. But now it would make us meeker and weaker.

"Tehran had responded to Donald Trump’s decision to walk away from the original 2015 deal — known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or J.C.P.O.A. — by enriching uranium to ever-higher levels of purity, bringing it increasingly close to a nuclear bomb, or at least the capability to build one quickly," Stephens wrote. "Barring a new deal that put limits on enrichment, Iran seemed destined to cross the nuclear finish line sooner rather than later... But today we live in a different world. It’s a world in which Russia and China — parties to both the J.C.P.O.A. and the current negotiations — are definitely not our well-wishers, and a world in which Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates wouldn’t answer Joe Biden’s phone calls in the midst of the greatest geopolitical crisis of the 21st century.

"Maybe the administration needs to think through the broader implications of a new deal a little more carefully before it signs on again," Stephens wrote. "With or without the deal, Moscow will be able to build nuclear power plants in Iran, irrespective of the sanctions over the war in Ukraine. And Beijing — which in 2021 signed a 25-year, $400 billion strategic partnership with Tehran — will be able to conduct a lucrative business in Iran with little concern for U.S. sanctions. Combined with February’s 'no limits' friendship pact between Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, an Iran deal represents another step toward a new antidemocratic Tripartite Pact."

In The Boston Globe, Jeff Jacoby said it was "good" the deal may be imploding.

"Almost from the outset, Iran had violated several of the restrictions imposed by the deal and/or related UN Security Council resolutions," Jacoby wrote. "It hid information from international inspectors. It test-fired a nuclear-capable ballistic missile and declared it would accept no limitations on its missile development. Obama had pitched the deal as one that would encourage Iran to ‘get right with the world,’ but that never came close to happening. The Islamic Republic intervened in Syria’s civil war in support of the murderous Bashar Assad, armed Houthi rebels in Yemen, seized two US Navy vessels and humiliated their sailors, called repeatedly for the extermination of Israel, and continued to subsidize terrorist groups.

"Meanwhile, Iran has issued a fresh reminder that it remains committed to spreading terrorism and violence across the Middle East," he added. "On Sunday, Iran fired a barrage of missiles over its border into northern Iraq, striking near the US consulate site in Erbil. This was a deliberate act of belligerence — a violation of Iraqi sovereignty and an act of aggression against the United States. Writing in the Jerusalem Post, Seth J. Frantzman observed that the consulate is not in the center of the city, which meant that the consulate had to be specifically targeted. 'This is an Iranian attack on the US in Iraq,' Frantzman wrote. Tehran readily took credit for that attack. Its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a paramilitary organization designated as a terrorist organization by the State Department, said it was meant as a message to Israel."

Victoria Coates and Robert Greenway, who worked in the Trump administration to get the IRGC put on the list of terrorist organizations, said Biden must keep them there.

"The terrorist list is one of the most powerful tools in our national security arsenal — a designation by the State Department and other agencies that not only economically isolates the entity in question but also imposes sanctions on any other group that provides it with material support (which can be anything from food and shelter to armaments)," they wrote. "In essence, the designation imposes penalties on companies doing any sort of business with the sanctioned entity and opens these companies up to an increased risk of civil litigation on the part of the entity’s victims... In the Trump White House, we had voluminous historical and contemporary evidence of the group’s terrorist activities, and evidence that those activities had expanded following the signing of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

"For example, in 2011, the IRGC participated in a plot to bomb a Georgetown restaurant to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States — an attack that, if it had not been foiled by the FBI, would have also killed scores of innocent American civilians," they added. "In 2015, a senior Iranian diplomat who was also a member of the IRGC was expelled from Uruguay’s capital, Montevideo, for planning an attack near the Israeli Embassy that would have killed both Israeli diplomats and Uruguayan civilians. In 2018, authorities in Belgium, France and Germany arrested several IRGC operatives, including a credentialed Iranian diplomat, in a plot to plant a bomb to disrupt a political rally in Paris that would have killed scores of innocent civilians, including Americans."


What the left is saying.

  • The left is supportive of reviving a deal, and also cautions that much has changed since 2015.
  • Some argue that Trump's withdrawal from the deal has put us in a weaker position.
  • Others argue that designating the entire IRGC as a terrorist group is untenable.

In The Los Angeles Times, Dalia Dassa Kaye said "a lot has changed" since 2015.

"Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 deal and the subsequent Iranian nuclear violations and military escalation have altered the region for the worse. Several challenges thus remain even if the Vienna negotiations succeed," Kaye wrote. "From the start, neither the Biden administration nor the new hard-line Iranian leadership under President Ebrahim Raisi has been in a hurry to negotiate. Both sides face considerable domestic opposition to reviving an agreement. A revived deal might exclude some important issues such as missiles, which have become a dire military threat on their own even without being linked to nuclear capacities. Had a nuclear agreement been in effect since 2015, perhaps the signatories could now be building on it to address such concerns, rather than starting over.

"A second challenge is that Israeli-Iranian escalation may become more difficult to contain this time around," Kaye wrote. "If Israel does not believe a renewed agreement sufficiently constrains Iran’s program, or considers the timeline too short, attacks could continue even if Iran complies. A third challenge will loom if these talks succeed: There may be no more do-overs. If the next American administration again withdraws from the agreement, or if Iran violates its terms because the provided economic relief is not sufficient, the agreement will almost certainly not be salvaged again. Mistrust could be too high."

Dylan Williams, the vice president of the lobbying group J Street, wrote a letter to The Washington Post arguing that the Trump administration's policies were wrong.

"In 2018, President Donald Trump made a calamitous foreign policy decision: withdrawing from the highly successful Iran nuclear deal," Williams wrote. "The agreement was working: Nuclear material was shipped out of Iran, enrichment activities were restricted, and inspectors were given unprecedented access to verify compliance. Mr. Trump’s abandonment of the agreement and his 'maximum pressure' approach were utter disasters. That policy strengthened Iranian hard-liners, unleashed Iran to enrich nuclear fuel to unprecedented levels and stoked tensions between the United States and Iran.

"John R. Bolton, Mr. Trump’s onetime national security adviser, now wants to sabotage a new agreement under the pretense of constitutional concerns," Williams wrote. "A majority of Israeli security experts have repudiated the 'maximum pressure' approach. Tamir Pardo, former director of the Mossad, called the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran deal a strategic mistake. Gadi Eisenkot, former chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Forces, said abandoning the deal 'brought Iran to the most advanced position today with regard to its nuclear program.' Aharon Haliva, head of Israeli military intelligence, asserted that the Iran deal is better than the no-deal scenario. Congress would be wise to heed the words of these experts and ignore the reckless advice of anti-diplomacy hawks such as Mr. Bolton."

Jason Rezaian, an Iranian-American journalist once held prisoner by Iran, said both sides of the IRGC argument are wrong.

"Fortunately, there is a third option. When the original blanket designation was first announced by the Trump administration, I wrote about my opposition to it. Among other things, it was too broad and criminalized the hundreds of thousands of Iranian men who did their mandatory military service in the IRGC. As with so many Trump policies, it was ill-conceived and clumsily implemented by people with little practical experience on relevant matters. But, as I also argued, that didn’t mean the idea was without merit. While the IRGC is a branch of the Islamic republic’s conventional military, it is also an insidious presence.

"It has been integral to the weakening of Iranian civil society, spreading its tentacles into virtually all sectors, from construction to media production, and using its power to abuse citizens and destroy anything it perceives as competition," Rezaian wrote. "The IRGC has also aided the Assad regime in Syria, worked to destabilize Iraq and abducted dissidents in other countries. Now, President Biden has the opportunity to home in on a more practical and effective approach that could actually yield positive results: listing specific individuals and entities within the IRGC. This would include the Quds Force, which the United States says is responsible for providing improvised explosive devices that killed and wounded hundreds of U.S. troops in Iraq."


My take.

If you go back and read my writing about this a year ago, I was leaning toward the position I have come to now, but said clearly then: "I’m resisting the urge here to make a claim about what the best path forward is — I’m not entirely sure."

The primary issues we are weighing seem to be the same: Would we rather have Iran with a well-funded network of proxy groups and more influence in the Middle East, or have them be further away from a nuclear bomb? If they get a deal and get sanctions lifted, they have more money to exert disruptive influence. If they don't get a deal they then push forward on nuclear development, and could soon have the leverage of an arsenal.

I think there are very good arguments on both sides. I'm a Jew who has both a reverence for and a critical view of Israel, but it's impossible not to feel antagonistic toward an oppressive regime that views Israel as a cancerous tumor. So my primary goals are to contain Iranian leadership while not doing too much harm to the people of Iran.

What I don't think is really disputable anymore — at least as far as what has happened over the last few years — is that withdrawing from the deal in 2018 was a mistake. Trump made plenty of good points for that withdrawal, and I actually wrote supportively about some of his reasoning. But he was wrong and so was I. Iran has now bulldozed its way even closer to a nuclear weapon, and increased its attacks on U.S. forces and allies — precisely the opposite result of what Trump's harsh sanctions intended.

Even though some Iran-funded groups have retreated in places like Syria, State Department spokesman Ned Price estimates that between 2019 and 2020, the number of attacks against U.S. personnel and facilities in Iraq by Iran-backed groups “went up 400 percent.” Israel's top security officials, even those who oppose a deal, seem to agree that Iran's actions are more dangerous and aggressive now than they were before Trump withdrew.

On the other hand, major news outlets have mistakenly said that Iran was mere weeks away from obtaining the required supply of enriched uranium to build a nuclear bomb at least a dozen times over the last decade or two, so I'm not sure how seriously to take those warnings. But that doesn’t mean we’re just repeating history here. The path forward is much less certain than it was four years ago, and so are the dynamics of these negotiations. The war in Ukraine really has changed things, insomuch as Russia is now using its position in the talks to try to negotiate itself out of sanctions and Iran is clearly going to align itself more closely with Russia and China in whatever this new world order will be.

It's also true that while the Biden administration has promised a new deal would be longer and stronger, nothing we've heard so far indicates that is going to be true. But even a bad deal could extend Iran's breakout time and buy us time to navigate what is happening in Ukraine, and the Biden administration will earn some criticism if it misses this chance to get an improved agreement.

As for what to do about the IRGC, I liked Jason's take. It was very "Tangle-esque," with concessions that both sides were wrong in their binary absolutism and each has powerful arguments worth taking into consideration. I think he found the appropriate compromise in designating some members of the IRGC as terrorists but not all of them. We have the intelligence to make informed determinations about who should be so classified, let's use it.

Without knowing what a deal looks like in detail, I can't say for sure whether it's a good thing. But I can say for sure that the "no deal" world has not made us, Israel, or any other folks in the Middle East safer — and it certainly hasn't tamped down Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Given that this was supposed to be the whole point of withdrawing from the deal and implementing a maximum pressure campaign, we should work to change the position we're in now.

Have thoughts about "my take?" You can reply to this email and write in or leave a comment if you're a subscriber.


Your questions, answered.

Q: What are the Republicans running on for the midterms? Is there a clear policy platform?

— Nathan, San Diego, California

Tangle: In simple terms: No. There is no official party platform. That's not really a criticism of Republicans, it's just the truth. The party has been cagey about its platform over the last few years, mostly because a lot of what it stands for is containing progressivism and Democrats but also because they don’t agree internally on a lot of issues. I don't think there is anything inherently wrong with this, and certainly it has proven to be a strong political play. Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) recently unveiled his idea for a party platform but it was widely panned and then directly shot down by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Perhaps this ambiguity was best summed up by McConnell, the leader of the party in Congress, who, when asked about their agenda should Republicans regain control, responded, “That’s a very good question. And I’ll let you know when we take it back.” Now, that may not bother most voters, but “we’ll tell you what we’re going to do once we are elected” is not exactly my preferred means of governance.

That being said, I think there are a few general thrusts we're seeing that are coming out now and are consistent with past years and the Trump presidency: Education policies centered on parental rights and more control of curriculum, ramped up border security, opposition to Covid-19 mandates around vaccines and masks, and containing "Big Tech" censorship. And then I'd expect traditional conservative priorities like restricting immigration more broadly, cutting taxes, implementing anti-abortion laws, and an emphasis on free market capitalism.

Want to ask a question? You can reply to this email and write in (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.


A story that matters.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said he would no longer require college degrees for many state jobs as a "common-sense way to address labor shortages and provide greater opportunities for skilled workers." Critics said the decision will lower standards for important government jobs, but it has reignited the ongoing debate about the value of higher education. Hogan's announcement made hundreds of job openings immediately available to Marylanders who are without a four-year degree, but have other experience or training. Hogan said the move was the first of its kind in the country. The Washington Post has the story.


Numbers.

  • Over $100 billion. The estimated amount of money Iran has in frozen foreign assets held in banks abroad.
  • 36%. The percentage of registered voters who want a "binding" Iran nuclear deal.
  • 18%. The percentage of registered voters who want a non-binding Iran nuclear deal like the one made in 2015.
  • 20%. The percentage of registered voters who said they did not want any deal.
  • 26%. The percentage of registered voters who said they had no opinion or didn't know.
  • 35%. The percentage of Republican voters who said they wanted no deal.

Did you miss it?

‼️
On Friday, we published a subscribers-only edition that compared members of Congress to your typical American. We looked at salary, age, race, religion, immigration status, benefits, and more. You can find the piece here and read a free preview even if you aren't subscribed (but you should subscribe!)

Have a nice day.

A couple in Canada is taking "welcoming" refugees to a whole new level. Brian and Sharon Holowaychuk are converting their 15,000 square-foot Vancouver Island resort property into a landing spot for Ukrainian refugees. The couple says it is attempting to house as many as 100 refugees, and already has 19 people booked. Brian's grandparents are Ukrainian immigrants, which was part of his motivation to help. He and Sharon bought the oceanfront property, which is surrounded by wildlife, to convert it into an art gallery. But now those plans are on hold. “We’re in a position, in a place, in a time where we could help make a bit of a difference. And I thought, you know, it’s time to stand up and be counted,” Brian said. Global News has the story.


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