Iran showdown in Congress damages US credibility

(Deutsche Welle) The White House has secured enough support in the Senate to successfully veto a resolution that would “disapprove” of the Iran nuclear deal. But it’s a hollow victory. A presidential veto could damage US credibility.

The votes have been tallied. At least 34 US Senators will support the Iran nuclear deal and back President Barack Obama’s anticipated veto of a resolution that disapproves of the agreement. To put it simply, those in Congress who oppose the nuclear deal have been defeated – for now.

There’s a good chance that Congress will pass the disapproval resolution. After all, both the House of Representatives and the Senate are controlled by the Republican Party, which is bitterly opposed to the nuclear agreement. At least two leading Democrats, Senators Robert Menendez and Charles Schumer, are also opposed. They have until September 17 to vote on the resolution.

Should the disapproval resolution pass, President Obama would issue a veto. In order to override a presidential veto, opponents of the deal would then need two-thirds support in the House and the Senate. Senator Barbara Mikulski’s decision on Wednesday to support the nuclear agreement ensures that opponents will not have the 67 votes needed in the Senate to override the president’s veto.

According to Jeffrey Peake, many opponents of the Iran nuclear deal knew from the beginning that they would probably lose the showdown with the president. But the impending vote gives them the opportunity to state their opposition to the historic agreement on the record.

“They knew the writing was on the wall,” Peake, an expert on the role of Congress in American diplomacy, told DW. “It was pretty to clear to everyone involved that the veto would be sustained.”

“It allows them a vote where they can go home to their constituents and say, ‘I voted to oppose this deal. It’s on the record,'” Peake said. “They have capitulated basically, but it’s so convoluted and complicated that most observers and constituents aren’t going to see that.”

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US-Saudi alliance stays strong after Iran nuclear deal

Will the Iran nuclear deal strain ties between Saudi Arabia and the US? Hardly. The alliance between the world’s largest absolute monarchy and its oldest constitutional republic remains strong, Spencer Kimball reports.

One is an officially Islamic nation ruled by the same family for 83 years, where religion dictates who drives (men) and what women may wear (abayas, or full-body cloaks); the other is a mostly, but not officially, Christian country where voters pick their leaders and often even enact local laws.

Enemies and interests may be the only two things Saudi Arabia and the United States do have in common, and these have proved the basis for a long and largely loyal strategic partnership.

“It has survived every possible provocation that might have brought it down, including [US President] Truman’s recognition of Israel in 1948,” Thomas Lippman, a former Middle East bureau chief for the Washington Post, told DW.

Lippman believes that the relationship will also survive its latest test: the deal world powers signed in July to ease sanctions on Iran in exchange for international monitoring of the country’s nuclear program.

On Sunday, US Secretary of State John Kerry left for Qatar, part of his first trip to the Middle East since he and fellow negotiators reached the historic agreement with Saudi Arabia’s main rival for regional influence.

Before and after the deal, Kerry repeatedly reaffirmed the US’s commitment to the security of its Gulf partners. Just last week, the State Department approved the sale of 600 Patriot missiles, worth $5.4 billion (4.9 billion euros), to Riyadh.

The Patriots will help counter Iran’s missile program, Lippman said, though he doesn’t believe that the sale is necessarily related to the nuclear deal.

“I have no doubt that the Saudis despise Shiites and are nervous about the Iranians and are unhappy about Iran’s activity around the region – that’s no secret,” Lippman said.

“They also understand perfectly which side their bread is buttered on, and that’s the US side,” he continued. “Nobody else is going to sell them 600 patriot missiles.”

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Obama’s foreign policy: ‘Put yourself in their shoes’

US President Obama has normalized diplomatic relations with Cuba and concluded a nuclear agreement with Iran. Is engaging adversaries the new normal in Washington? Spencer Kimball reports.

It was a surprisingly candid admission for a sitting American president: The US has, in fact, done wrong to other nations.

“Even with your adversaries, I do think that you have to have the capacity to put yourself occasionally in their shoes, and if you look at Iranian history, the fact is that we had some involvement with overthrowing a democratically elected regime in Iran,” President Obama told Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, hours after a historic nuclear deal was concluded with Tehran.

Obama was referencing the 1953 CIA coup that overthrew Mohammad Mosaddegh, a secular democratic leader who nationalized Iran’s oil industry, ending decades of British control. But the president’s history lesson didn’t end there.

“We have had (sic) in the past supported Saddam Hussein when we know he used chemical weapons in the war between Iran and Iraq, and so, as a consequence, they have their own security concerns, their own narrative,” the president said.

The Reagan administration re-established diplomatic relations with the Iraqi dictator in 1980s, providing intelligence that facilitated Iraq’s invasion of Iran. This part of the historical record is rarely brought up in the US domestic discourse on Iran and the Middle East.

Instead, the US tends to focus on their own grievances: The 52 Americans held hostage during the Islamic revolution, the antagonism toward Israel and the anti-Semitic rhetoric of some Iranian leaders.

But it’s not just Iran. For decades, the United States faced off with another revolutionary regime – the communist government in Cuba. This summer, things have changed. The normalization of diplomatic relations with Cuba and the nuclear accord with the Islamic Republic promise to end two long-standing international confrontations.

“A willingness to empathize – not sympathize, but to empathize, to see ourselves as other countries see us – is a sea change in US attitude,” Philip Brenner, an expert on US foreign policy and Cuba at American University, told DW.

“It’s very hard for us to do it, because we’re so large and others countries are so small,” Brenner said. “We have a capacity to affect them much more than they can affect us.”

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Tentative Iran nuclear deal reached in Lausanne after marathon negotiations

 (By Deutsche Welle) World powers and Iran have agreed to a framework that could end the standoff over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. In exchange for limitations on enrichment, sanctions targeting nuclear research will be lifted.

Iran and world powers have reached a diplomatic breakthrough that could lead to a final settlement of the 12-year-long confrontation over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. That’s the clear message that emerged from marathon talks in Lausanne, which ran two days past a self-imposed Tuesday deadline well into Thursday evening local time.

“Today we have taken a decisive step,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told reporters after eight days of talks. “We have reached solutions on key parameters of a joint comprehensive plan of action. The political determination, the goodwill, and the hard work of all parties made it possible.”

Iran, the five permanent UN Security Council members and Germany would now move to draft the text of a final settlement by June 30th, according to Mogherini. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif subsequently read the same statement in Farsi.

A diplomatic breakthrough in Switzerland wasn’t a foregone conclusion. During the eight days of talks, stubborn differences had emerged over how long limitations on Iranian nuclear research should last and the pace at which sanctions should be lifted.

“In essence, it’s about trying with one single agreement to overcome not just differences over a nuclear issue, but fundamentally beyond that overcome almost four decades of suspicion between Iran on the one hand and particularly the United States on the other hand,” Alex Vatanka, an Iran analyst at the Middle East Institute, told DW.

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US and Iran: ‘More cooperation than meets the eye’

(By Deutsche Welle) Bitter adversaries for a generation, the US and Iran now face a common enemy: the “Islamic State.” But Dr. Roham Alvandi tells DW that politics prevent Tehran and Washington from cooperating publicly.

DW: What are the US and Iran’s respective interests in fighting the “Islamic State”? Are they opposed to IS for the same reasons?

Roham Alvandi: They’re not quite the same reasons. They each have their own interests in Iraq, and they each have an interest in containing and eventually defeating the Islamic State. From the US point of view, what they’re trying to do is defeat the IS threat but also create some sort of inclusive government in Iraq where you have some sort of balance between the Shia, the Sunni and the Kurds.

Whereas from the Iranian perspective, that’s much less their priority. They’re very much backing their allies in Iraq. But on the whole, there’s probably more cooperation going on than meets the eye. I suspect that there was a great deal of cooperation behind the scenes that has to do with the creation of the new government in Iraq, and I suspect that there’s also some cooperation in terms of the military operations that are going on. But neither side has an interest in acknowledging that openly, so they’re going to keep that very quiet.

Ayatollah Khamenei said that he rejected an offer from the US to cooperate against the Islamic State. Why would Iran oppose cooperating with Washington against a common enemy?

Iran assisted the United States in Afghanistan back in 2001. They helped defeat the Taliban; they helped create the Bonn process [to rebuild Afghanistan’s political institutions]; they helped create the Karzai government. And what they got in exchange for that was “axis of evil” and more sanctions. Nothing came out of it and that was quite a gamble for President Khatami who had convinced the leadership that this was the right thing to do. So you can’t really blame them for being skeptical as to whether the US will really come through on any sort of quid pro quo as far as Iraq is concerned.

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Iraq powder keg could ignite broader conflict

(By Deutsche Welle) Sitting at the heart of the Middle East, Iraq shares a border with virtually every major power in the region. The rapid advance of Sunni Islamist militants in Iraq could spark a broader regional conflict.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal warned a meeting of Arab and Muslim leaders in Jeddah on Wednesday that “this grave situation that is storming Iraq carries with it the signs of civil war whose implications for the region we cannot fathom.”

Al-Faisal called on Iraq’s Shiite-led government to address the grievances of the country’s Sunni community. He also warned against “foreign interference” in Iraq, a veiled jibe at Saudi Arabia’s archrival, Iran.

Tehran has said that it would intervene on behalf of Iraq, if Baghdad asked for assistance in its fight against the Sunni extremist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The Wall Street Journal has reported that Iranian units have already been deployed to protect Shia holy sites in Karbala and Najaf and to stabilize the situation in Baghdad.

Meanwhile, the former UN envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, has drawn a connection between the current crisis in Iraq and the civil war in neighboring Syria. Brahimi said that the international community had “unfortunately neglected the Syrian problem and did not help resolve it,” which has fanned the flames of sectarianism in Iraq.

“The jihadists’ action in Iraq is taking place against a backdrop of a civil war between Shiites and Sunnis,” Brahimi told the AFP news agency last weekend.

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US-Russian tensions over Ukraine threaten cooperation on Syria, Iran

(By Deutsche Welle) US-Russian relations have reached one of their lowest points since the end of the Cold War. The question is, as Moscow and Washington face off over Ukraine, can they continue to cooperate on Syria and Iran?

Barack Obama was going to be the president who salvaged Washington’s deteriorating relationship with Russia. Ties between the two countries had frayed during the Bush administration over Moscow’s intervention in Georgia and US plans to deploy a missile-defense shield in Eastern Europe.

In 2009, then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov with a red “reset” button. The gesture symbolized the Obama White House’s desire to clear the slate and build a more cooperative relationship with the Kremlin.

Fast forward five years and Washington is now threatening Moscow with economic sanctions over the crisis in Ukraine. It’s the most serious confrontation between the two powers in the past two decades, according to Jeffrey Mankoff, an expert on Russian foreign policy with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington D.C.

“There’s not going to be a walking back from the confrontation that’s been unleashed by this crisis, at least as long as Russia is what it is, which is to say an increasingly authoritarian and revisionist power,” Mankoff told DW.

But from the Syrian civil war to Iran’s nuclear program, the US needs Russian cooperation to resolve a host of international problems. In Washington, the Republican opposition believes that President Obama’s unwillingness to adopt a more aggressive posture has only emboldened Damascus, Moscow, and Tehran.

“We are almost rudderless as far as our foreign policy is concerned,” Senator John McCain told DW at the Munich Security Conference in February.

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