Dueling narratives on Vienna

On the one hand, Al-Monitor’s Laura Rozen is reporting that significant progress was made in this last round of talks in Vienna, so much so that the Iranian negotiators may actually have felt that a deal was within reach if the P5+1 principals had stayed there another week. She writes that the P5+1 negotiators are less effusive in their description of the progress that was made, but they do claim that there was progress:

Notably, France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius — long viewed as skeptical of whether an acceptable Iran nuclear deal could be reached — on Nov. 25 said he found the latest round of talks “pretty positive,” and said there had been progress in one of the most vexing issues of the negotiations, on the subject of enrichment capacity.

“On limiting Iran’s capacity to enrich, I found that there had been a certain movement,” Fabius told France’s Inter radio Nov. 25, Reuters reported.

“The devil is in the detail, but there is a will to find an agreement that I hadn’t felt in previous talks,” Fabius said.

“Positions are much more realistic than in the past,” Ali Vaez, senior Iran analyst at the International Crisis Group, said Nov. 25. “Now I think both sides can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

So maybe having the outline of a deal in place by March 1 isn’t so unrealistic after all. Call this the optimistic view.

On the other hand, Scott Lucas at EA Worldview sounds a lot like me in that he’s having a hard time seeing where the talks can possibly go from here: Continue reading

Making the news up as we go along

Wall Street Journal Washington bureau chief Gerald F. Seib, twittering about an important piece on one of their blogs today:

Wow. Not going well? That sounds ominous. I’ve seen Robert Einhorn, one of the former advisors in question, speak about the talks recently, and he actually sounded cautiously optimistic about how things were going. Well, let’s see what the blog post says:

Two former top advisors to the Obama administration on Iran are calling for the White House and Congress to increase the threat of using military force against Tehran if talks aimed at curbing its nuclear program fail – or the country’s Islamist government is caught cheating on the terms of an agreement.

This hawkish stance taken by Robert Einhorn and Dennis Ross – both strong proponents of President Barack Obama‘s diplomacy with Iran – underscores the skittishness in Washington and Europe about the prospects for the negotiations losing momentum.

American and Iranian diplomats continue to stake starkly different positions on the end state for Tehran’s nuclear program. The U.S. wants a dismantling of much of Iran’s facilities, while President Hasan Rouhani’s government maintains it will keep them.

Well, Einhorn did recently issue a report where he said that Congress should give the president prior authorization to use force if Iran is caught reneging on its obligations, and Dennis Ross, the other advisor in question, did agree with him, but have either of them actually said they think talks aren’t going well? If you guessed “no,” you’re eligible for our grand prize, a one year subscription to the Wall Street Journal and the secret decoder ring you need to figure out if what they’re telling you is actually true.

As far as I can tell, the “talks aren’t going well” part of Seib’s tweet is completely imagined, and even the actual post’s less provocative tone (Einhorn “underscores the skittishness” here rather than coming right out and saying the talks aren’t going well) is the writer’s interpretation of Einhorn’s report being passed off as authoritative. But I feel very strongly that Seib’s made up extrapolation of the blog’s invented interpretation is going to be treated as received wisdom on the right for a day or so.

If you want to know what Einhorn is actually saying, and not what some WSJ blogger imagines he might be thinking, try instead this Laura Rozen piece from Al-Monitor:

“I think both parties really do have a strong incentive to get it done in six months,” Einhorn said. “I don’t think either party has an incentive to extend it.”

However, he said, while “both sides genuinely want to reach agreement and want to create the perception that agreement is possible…[to] generate momentum, the reality is the substantive positions” are still far apart.

Sounds pretty, I don’t know, cautiously optimistic, for a guy who’s so skittish about the talks collapsing. But I don’t have one of those WSJ decoder rings, so how would I know?