- Diplomats for and against the Iran nuclear deal are making their case
- “The ball really is with Congress right now,” so diplomats focus there, said one official
In conversations with CNN, some foreign diplomats and officials who back the deal say that at the highest levels, the White House has seemed at times so wedded to its talking points on Iran that it doesn’t listen, with President Donald Trump stuck in “transmit rather than receive mode.”
The State Department, they say, isn’t really part of the conversation.
“The ball really is with Congress right now,” so that’s where diplomats have been focused, said one senior official, but even there, things aren’t going all that well.
Some say animosity between Republicans and Democrats has made their work uncomfortable. And while all the officials CNN spoke to said lawmakers are avid for input from allies, some worry that Congress’ attempts to fix the deal will spin out of control and ultimately drag the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action down with it.
‘Not about banging down doors’
“There are lots of well-intentioned people on both sides in Congress,” said one European diplomat. “Our worry is, once you start tweaking INARA, you could end up essentially renegotiating the deal unilaterally, and then you lose control of it if Iran ultimately walks away.”
One diplomat from a country that supports the deal said the point isn’t to lobby Congress but to say, “Here’s why we feel the way we do.” It’s not about banging down doors, this diplomat said, but about working with Congress.
Israeli and Gulf officials quietly make their case in meetings with lawmakers and administration officials. At lower levels, Washington-based diplomats have pressed the issue on the Hill and at the White House for months in an effort to influence whether the deal should change, and to what degree.
Diplomats on all sides of the deal have focused their tug-of-war campaign on Capitol Hill since October. That’s when Trump — hostile to the nuclear deal but stymied by declarations that Iran is complying from the United Nations, US allies and even his own national security staff — punted the issue to Congress.
Before Trump handed it off to Congress, some supporters of the deal say, they were having a tough time getting their message across to the White House. When British Prime Minister Theresa May met the President in New York in September, the first issue she raised was the nuclear deal, and she came away with the sense that he wasn’t really listening, according to someone present who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the meeting.
‘Transmit, rather than receive mode’
That person said Trump kept interjecting with simple talking points — “It’s the worst deal ever” — without explaining his reasons or addressing the substance, while the Prime Minister wanted to focus on the details of the deal, stress that Iran was in compliance and convey that the UK would work with the US to ratchet up pressure on Iran for its other malign activities.
Afterward, the person present said Trump had clearly been “on transmit rather than receive mode.”
In contrast, lawmakers from both parties are reaching out to engage on the substance, foreign diplomats said. Those involved with amending INARA are telling diplomats from allied countries that their goal is to keep the US compliant with the nuclear deal.
“I got clear indications that the intention is keep the United States compliant with the agreement and find ways to do that in coordination with … the European Union, as such, and the rest of the international community,” Mogherini said.
The EU’s top diplomat was speaking to the press during a break in her 24-hour blitz through Congress over Nov. 6 and 7. But Capitol Hill dynamics are leading some advocates for the deal to pull back a bit.