Those dedicated to maintaining perpetual hostility toward the Islamic Republic of Iran, and thus to sabotaging any negotiated agreement that resolves all or part of the issue of Iran's nuclear agreement, are facing their most challenging week in some time. Favorable reports have been coming from the talks in Geneva, the U.S. secretary of state is flying there to confer directly with the Iranian foreign minister, and the negotiators seem to be on the cusp of an interim agreement. The response of the saboteurs is not to retreat, or even to wait until details of any deal are announced, but instead to redouble their efforts to subvert the process. The output of those efforts can be confusing to those who are not saboteurs themselves but instead have a genuine concern about keeping Iran's program peaceful.
Some of the saboteurs' principal accusations and arguments, regardless of how invalid they may be, are couched in terms that have resonance with those having honest concerns and with other Americans. There is, for example, the idea of going for the jugular and making sweeping demands of the Iranians, including in particular the demand to end all enrichment of uranium. Such a demand is a sure deal-breaker, which is exactly why many of those making the demand are making it. But the idea of winning big appeals to Americans' competitive instincts. Some of that kind of spirit and attitude comes through in a piece from Ray Takeyh, who argues that “Washington is in a position to demand the most stringent of nuclear accords and should pay scant attention to Iran's oft-proclaimed red lines.” Such an outlook evokes visions of an over-amped football coach who tells his players during a game against a banged-up opponent, “We've got them where we want them, boys—let's run up the score!”
We are not playing a football game, or a zero-sum game. Humiliation of Iran does not advance U.S. interests. The “most stringent” of conceivable accords is not necessary—as a matter of either technical monitoring or Iranian motivations—to achieve the desired result of keeping the Iranian nuclear program peaceful. Making sweeping demands instead would move farther away from that result by killing the chance of a deal, not only because some specific substantive demands would be unacceptable even to a hard-pressed and heavily sanction Iran, but also because of the political need of any Iranian leader to save face and avoid humiliation.
Then there is the handling of sanctions, and especially a push to add still more sanctions to the existing pile. That also would make an agreement less likely, principally by being another signal to the Iranians that the United States only wants to squeeze the Islamic Republic rather than to deal with it. And again, some of those pushing the idea of still more sanctions are doing so precisely because this would make a deal less likely. Here the appeal to those other, more honest, Americans comes from the idea that if something has worked so far, it would be even better to have more of that same something. In the present instance, the notion is that if sanctions have helped to bring the Iranians to the negotiating table, more sanctions is what we need to make them make more concessions. The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, among others, has voiced exactly this argument.