Anything But Cecil: The Franco-American Iran-Nuclear Diplomatic Mystère

 

Okay, gentle ladies, gentlemen, and wingèd seraphs of Ricochet, today is Anything But Cecil Day. Indeed, it’s Anything But Whatever’s on Drudge Day, because while that’s on the front page, a lot of other stories aren’t being covered. Here’s an item about which, perhaps, you’ve heard, but I figure Cecil might be crowding out everyone’s news feeds to the extent that it might not hurt to bring it up. And I have a bit to add to it.

As Josh Rogan reported for Bloomberg, a senior diplomatic adviser to President Francois Hollande seems to be in a bit of a disagreement with John Kerry about the Iran nuclear deal:

Secretary of State John Kerry has been painting an apocalyptic picture of what would happen if Congress killed the Iran nuclear deal. Among other things, he has warned that “our friends in this effort will desert us.” But the top national security official from one of those nations involved in the negotiations, France, has a totally different view: He told two senior U.S. lawmakers that he thinks a Congressional no vote might actually be helpful. …

Audibert expressed support for the deal overall, but also directly disputed Kerry’s claim that a Congressional rejection of the Iran deal would result in the worst of all worlds, the collapse of sanctions and Iran racing to the bomb without restrictions.

“He basically said, if Congress votes this down, there will be some saber-rattling and some chaos for a year or two, but in the end nothing will change and Iran will come back to the table to negotiate again and that would be to our advantage,” Sanchez told me in an interview. “He thought if the Congress voted it down, that we could get a better deal.” …

[US supporters of the deal] all say that if the Congress doesn’t lift U.S. sanctions, the rest of the international regime will collapse and allied countries will rush to do business in Iran. That would make the U.S. sanctions moot. ….

Audibert disagrees with that analysis, too, according to the two lawmakers. He told them that if U.S. sanctions were kept in place, it would effectively prevent the West from doing extensive business in Iran. “I asked him specifically what the Europeans would do, and his comment was that the way the U.S. sanctions are set in, he didn’t see an entity or a country going against them, that the risk was too high,” Sanchez said.

Audibert also wasn’t happy with some of the terms of the deal itself, according to Sanchez and Turner. He said he thought it should have been negotiated to last forever, not start to expire in as few as 10 years. He also said he didn’t understand why Iran needed more than 5,000 centrifuges for a peaceful nuclear program. He also expressed concerns about the robustness of the inspections and verification regime under the deal, according to the lawmakers.

After this came out, there was a stern, formal denial from the French embassy, which claimed Audibert had said no such thing. Audibert himself said he had said no such thing. Then two more congressmen chimed in and said, “That’s exactly what he said, actually.”

Here’s what Audibert says he said, in an interview with the Nouvel Obs (my translation):

“Obviously, I never said something like that,” he told the Obs, “Here’s what I really said and how things really went down. The day before the deal, the American Ambassador in France, Jane Hartley, asked me to welcome a few American representatives to present our position on the text we’d just signed. Can you imagine for a second that I could have criticized it, in the presence of the American Ambassador? That’s absurd! Obviously, I defended it step-by-step. I explained why I though it was the best deal possible.

“At one point, Congresswoman Sanchez asked me if we could have obtained more. I repeated to her that it was the best deal possible. She insistently asked me: ‘But what would a better deal look like in an absolute sense?’ I told her that in such a case, there would without doubt be fewer centrifuges in operation and the accord would be for an indefinite duration, not for 15 years. But I told her again that under these circumstances, this was the best deal. And I obviously never told her that if Congress voted no, we could get more. And I never said that the measures for the control and verification of the nuclear program were insufficient.”

Jacques Audibert explained that Loretta Sanchez was right about one point. “The representatives, in effect, asked what Europeans would do if Congress shot down the deal. And it’s true, I told them that in my opinion, no European business would take the risk of doing business in rIan, because they’d be at risk of being subjected to American sanctions, as they were recently in the case of one big French bank. That’s obvious.”

So, according to the original article, Loretta Sanchez, Mike Turner, Paul Cook, and Tom Marino all say, “He said it and we’re sticking with it.” The French Embassy and the US Ambassador to France deny that he said it. He says — as you can see — that he said most of it, pretty much, but of course wouldn’t say that with the American Ambassador hovering right over him.

So what do you guess really happened here?

Published in Foreign Policy, General
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  1. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    Oh, so we could keep most sanctions on Iran anyway. I was affraid that everything had crumbled by now and this deal was Obama’s way of hiding his failiure.

    • #1
  2. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Cecil? Mais j’adore Cecil!!!

    (Also, I think Sanchez is kind of pushing it with the selective hearing/understanding. What is it about this deal that brings out the worst in public life?)

    • #2
  3. Eric Hines Inactive
    Eric Hines
    @EricHines

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: He told two senior U.S. lawmakers that he thinks a Congressional no vote might actually be helpful. …

    What’s this?  A foreign government official lobbying our Congress!?  The horror, the horror….

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: He told them that if U.S. sanctions were kept in place, it would effectively prevent the West from doing extensive business in Iran. “…the way the U.S. sanctions are set in, he didn’t see an entity or a country going against them, that the risk was too high,”

    I’m not sure I agree with him on this point.  French businesses, accompanied or advanced by the French [Trade Minister] already are in a mad rush into Iran to set up new business deals.  The rest of Europe–and American businesses (GE, anybody?)–aren’t far behind.  What about those business deals concluded before Congress votes down the “deal” and sustains the veto (a movie months in the making even if it comes to a happy ending)?  For the following year, or so, what would they fear from this administration were our sanctions left in place?  The collapse of the sanctions regime subsequent to the deal being blocked by Congress would fit this administration’s narrative of the End of Days.

    Audibert’s…clarification…for Nouvel Obs also strikes me as a dancing around of the question of what he said and how it should be interpreted.  His opening outright denial is well watered down and diluted.  That Hartley is an object of derision in France and elsewhere doesn’t mean, though, that it’s useful publicly to embarrass her, as A. suggests.  It’s also not useful for our guys to stand on ceremony and publicly embarrass A.

    He said what he said, in whatever forum he said it (the two forums (fora? fori?) don’t entirely contradict each other); that’s the useful thing with which to move.

    Eric Hines

    • #3
  4. Eric Hines Inactive
    Eric Hines
    @EricHines

    Zafar: What is it about this deal that brings out the worst in public life?)

    Iran and nuclear weapons.

    I won’t address Slate’s…characterization…of the hearings.

    Eric Hines

    • #4
  5. Casey Inactive
    Casey
    @Casey

    Iran comes to the table believing Obama will take any deal. So they play hardball. Everyone else at the table is frustrated. Iran won’t budge and the US says “Good enough for us.” They get tired of arguing with Kerry and say “You know, it is a bad deal and they won’t approve it anyway so let’s let this slide and we’ll try again later.”

    But they can’t say that out loud or it ruins the trick. So now he’s trying to unsay it. No, no… that’s not really how the trick is done. I was just talking.

    People is people.

    • #5
  6. Steve C. Member
    Steve C.
    @user_531302

    We’ve negotiated a big nothing and given the terrorist sponsoring Iranians a signing bonus. The rest is tape hiss.

    • #6
  7. Bill Walsh Member
    Bill Walsh
    @BillWalsh

    Of course he said it, and of course he had to deny having said it. He may have been speaking frankly in what he thought was a fairly private setting, but when it was reported and it put him too far from the official position, he had to “correct the record” (i.e., lie) for the sake of diplomacy.

    Unless, of course, he intentionally leaked the opinion with the foreknowledge that a transparent denial would be necessary, because either he (or the government of France) is actually hoping the Congress will shoot down what they consider a bad deal.

    Lying is tactical in diplomacy. One might wish it weren’t so, but given the conflicting imperatives of pursuing your interests and keeping up appearances, it’s almost inevitable. It’s a fallen creation…

    Given the sophistication and artifice of French politics since, oh, at least the eighteenth century, I’d guess it’s probably 80% probable this was deliberately planted with a necessary walk-back, 20% that he was speaking unguardedly and was caught out in an impolitic opinion.

    But I’m an unsophisticated American rube, so I imagine Claire will shortly correct my odds to 98:2.

    • #7
  8. PHCheese Inactive
    PHCheese
    @PHCheese

    Follow the money. For all intents and purposes Iran has weapons grade uranium and thus the bomb. They are interested in the 150 billion with a B dollars. Kerry wants a peace prize, BHO wants a legacy. They will either test or use a bomb within a year of getting the money.

    • #8
  9. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    First say what you think. Then, under pressure of the French and U.S. overlords, deny that you said it.   It’s a win-win.  You make your own opinion known, which is critical of the overlords, and the overlords can claim there is no dissent.  Each person can pick the version of the truth that he prefers.

    This isn’t the first time such things have been done.

    • #9
  10. jetstream Inactive
    jetstream
    @jetstream

    Can’t we just talk about Cecil? That’s just a story about a psychologically challenged dentist who probably thinks he can demonstrate his macho buy the type of car he drives. The Iran deal is the design for an apocalyptic catalyst. War mongers are in almost complete agreement that nuclear weapons in the hands crazy jihadists take all the fun out of a good war. Let’s either go to war and stop them or party like the end of the world is near.

    Goofy dentist vs crazy jihadists with nuclear weapons. I already lived through the civil defense drills of ducking under your desk at school.

    • #10
  11. Nick Stuart Inactive
    Nick Stuart
    @NickStuart

    PHCheese:Follow the money. For all intents and purposes Iran has weapons grade uranium and thus the bomb. They are interestedin the 150 billion with a B dollars. Kerry wants a peace prize, BHO wants a legacy. They will either test or use a bomb within a year of getting the money.

    Christmas 2016? Just enough of Obama’s term left for it to be a finger in his eye as a going away present. And too late for the incoming US president to really do anything about it.

    • #11
  12. PHCheese Inactive
    PHCheese
    @PHCheese

    Nick, I would think more like Easter of 2016. They like messing with our elections, but you do get the idea.

    • #12
  13. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe
    @PaulARahe

    This looks like an example of French cunning. First, tell the truth. Then, when the angry calls come in from the Obama administration, go out there and confuse everybody. Our diplomats could learn a thing or two from the French.

    • #13
  14. Leigh Inactive
    Leigh
    @Leigh

    The article makes it sound as though Audibert is roughly the equivalent of the US National Security Advisor — is that roughly accurate?

    So the congresswoman who first reported what he said is a Democrat.  That’s important.  Did he by any chance talk to Dianne Feinstein or Chuck Schumer?  And what did he say to them?

    • #14
  15. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    Claire,

    So summing up. Kerry is full of cr@#. I thought so. Tell me is there anything this administration has said about this deal that isn’t a lie?

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #15
  16. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    I have a question.  Why is there a space between gentle and ladies, and no space between gentle and men?

    • #16
  17. Casey Inactive
    Casey
    @Casey

    Basil Fawlty:I have a question. Why is there a space between gentle and ladies, and no space between gentle and men?

    I assume to allow space for a sarcastic cough.

    • #17
  18. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Bill Walsh:Lying is tactical in diplomacy.

    And, sadly, in politics.

    • #18
  19. Eric Hines Inactive
    Eric Hines
    @EricHines

    Zafar:

    Bill Walsh:Lying is tactical in diplomacy.

    And, sadly, in politics.

    Diplomacy is politics.

    Eric Hines

    • #19
  20. Nick Stuart Inactive
    Nick Stuart
    @NickStuart

    The only thing I can think to do personally (now that I’ve contacted my senator, Dick Durbin, waste of 10 minutes but gotta make the effort) is put it as far out of my mind as possible. I feel like I’m on a beach watching a tsunami that’s going to hit in about 5 seconds. Not a darn thing I can do about it.

    Does writing about this help?

    • #20
  21. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    Nick Stuart:The only thing I can think to do personally (now that I’ve contacted my senator, Dick Durbin, waste of 10 minutes but gotta make the effort) is put it as far out of my mind as possible. I feel like I’m on a beach watching a tsunami that’s going to hit in about 5 seconds. Not a darn thing I can do about it.

    Does writing about this help?

    Nick,

    I didn’t want to go this far but now you’ve forced me.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #21
  22. Leigh Inactive
    Leigh
    @Leigh

    Basil Fawlty:I have a question. Why is there a space between gentle and ladies, and no space between gentle and men?

    To write the word is to answer the question.  But I believe technically the term “lady” is itself the feminine equivalent of “gentleman.”  It needs no modifier; we are (allegedly) gentle by nature.  Though the word “gentlewoman” exists.

    • #22
  23. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    Leigh:

    Basil Fawlty:I have a question. Why is there a space between gentle and ladies, and no space between gentle and men?

    To write the word is to answer the question. But I believe technically the term “lady” is itself the feminine equivalent of “gentleman.” It needs no modifier; we are (allegedly) gentle by nature. Though the word “gentlewoman” exists.

    Sexism and redundancy.  And in the same sentence.  For shame!

    • #23
  24. Leigh Inactive
    Leigh
    @Leigh

    Basil Fawlty:

    Leigh:

    Basil Fawlty:I have a question. Why is there a space between gentle and ladies, and no space between gentle and men?

    To write the word is to answer the question. But I believe technically the term “lady” is itself the feminine equivalent of “gentleman.” It needs no modifier; we are (allegedly) gentle by nature. Though the word “gentlewoman” exists.

    Sexism and redundancy. And in the same sentence. For shame!

    Did you pick up on the drop of sarcasm?

    But seriously, while I don’t know the history it pretty clearly has to do with basic phonetic and spelling rules.  The silent “e” between the two “l”s is awkward.  But you can’t just drop the “e,” because the “le” in “gentle” is a distinct syllable: “gentlelady” is bad, but “gentlady” is impossible.

    I’m trying to think of another word that has this difficulty.

    • #24
  25. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Does anyone have a violin? I’d like to hear a violin while our civilization burns….

    • #25
  26. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    iWe:Does anyone have a violin? I’d like to hear a violin while our civilization burns….

    Once this horrible society has been cured of its lust for non-renewable resources and its desire to murder animals then and only then can it be rebuilt. Obamatopia is just around the corner.

    Destruction is Progress.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #26
  27. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Basil Fawlty: I have a question.  Why is there a space between gentle and ladies, and no space between gentle and men?

    Because “gentle” and “ladies” is redundant — ladies are by definition gentle — but I added it because I liked the way the syllables balanced better that way.

    • #27
  28. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Leigh:The article makes it sound as though Audibert is roughly the equivalent of the US National Security Advisor — is that roughly accurate?

    Not quite. He was France’s chief negotiator on the Iran nuclear deal, and is now (as of July 24th) Hollande’ s diplomatic advisor.

    • #28
  29. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    iWe:Does anyone have a violin? I’d like to hear a violin while our civilization burns….

    I have nero patience for that kind of attitude….

    • #29
  30. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    iWe:Does anyone have a violin? I’d like to hear a violin while our civilization burns….

    Does it have to be a violin?  Claire’s mother was a cellist.   I seem to remember Claire writing about her own musical training.  I don’t think she attained the same level as her mother, but maybe she could still play well enough to accompany a burning civilization.

    • #30
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