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The Morning Dispatch: Iran Deal Negotiations Begin—Again
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The Morning Dispatch: Iran Deal Negotiations Begin—Again

Iranian negotiators are demanding the U.S. lift all sanctions imposed since 2018.

Happy Tuesday! Tired: Releasing 50 million barrels of oil from your Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Wired: Releasing 50 million pounds of maple syrup from your Strategic Maple Syrup Reserve.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The Centers for Disease Control strengthened its booster shot messaging on Monday amid concerns about the Omicron variant, updating its guidance to say everyone ages 18 or older should—not just may—get a booster dose when they are eligible.

  • The White House issued guidance to unions on Monday declaring the approximately 3.5 percent of federal employees who have yet to receive a COVID-19 vaccine or request an exemption will not be suspended or fired for flouting the Biden administration’s November 22 deadline until at least early 2022. Agencies, the White House said, will pursue “education and counseling efforts through this holiday season as the first step in an enforcement process.”

  • A federal court in Missouri granted a preliminary injunction on Monday blocking—in 10 states—the enforcement of the Biden administration’s Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services rule mandating health care workers at federally funded facilities be vaccinated against COVID-19, which was set to go into effect on January 4, 2022. The White House has not yet said whether it will appeal the ruling.

  • In congressional testimony released Monday, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said the emergence of the Omicron COVID-19 variant poses “downside risks to employment and economic activity” and “increase[s] uncertainty for inflation.” Powell and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen are set to appear before the Senate Banking Committee this morning.

  • The Pentagon said Monday that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has tasked Army Gen. Michael Garrett—commander of U.S. Army Forces Command—with conducting a review of the March 2019 U.S. airstrike in Syria that killed dozens of civilians, including women and children.

  • The Senate failed to advance the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on Monday as 46 Republicans and five Democrats voted against ending debate on the approximately $770 billion package that funds the U.S. military. Republicans voted against the measure because they claimed Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer did not allow enough amendment votes, while the progressive Democrats’ opposition stemmed primarily from a belief Congress was allocating too much money to the military. Lawmakers remain optimistic, however, that the package will pass soon.

  • Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper is suing the Pentagon, claiming the agency he once led is “improperly” blocking “significant” portions of his upcoming book about serving in the Trump administration “under the guise of classification.” Current Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the department is “[taking] seriously its obligation to balance national security with an author’s narrative desire.”

  • Democratic Rep. Tom Suozzi announced Monday he is running for governor of New York, joining an increasingly crowded field that includes current Gov. Kathy Hochul, Attorney General Letitia James, New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, and potentially New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

  • Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey announced Monday he is resigning from the social media company this week and stepping down from its board next spring. CTO Parag Agrawal was promoted to the top job, and Dorsey will remain CEO of Square, a separate financial technology company he co-founded in 2009. 

  • Lee Elder—the first black golfer to compete in the Masters Tournament—died on Sunday at the age of 87.

Iran Deal Negotiations Restart in Vienna

(Photo by EU Vienna Delegation/Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

A group of the United States’ allies and adversaries convened at Vienna’s historic Palais Coburg on Monday, resuming diplomatic efforts to curb Iran’s rapidly advancing nuclear program. The Biden administration has repeatedly signaled its desire to revive the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—which former President Donald Trump denounced as one of our “worst and most one-sided transactions” before withdrawing the U.S. in 2018—despite Tehran’s refusal to meet with American negotiators face-to-face and a lack of bipartisan support for the deal at home.

The seventh round of indirect negotiations follows a five-month hiatus—a time period in which the Islamic Republic inaugurated President Ebrahim Raisi, a hardline cleric with a record of political violence and human rights abuses. Unsurprisingly, the new Iranian administration entered yesterday’s talks with tough rhetoric and a list of firm non-negotiables. 

Iran’s top negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani, focused on U.S. sanctions’ crippling impact on his country’s economy in the lead-up to Vienna, arguing in an opinion piece for the Financial Times on Monday that the negotiations should center on removing “unlawful and inhuman sanctions” from Tehran rather than addressing the nuclear question. Accordingly, Kani’s negotiating team is comprised of officials with economic backgrounds, including Iran’s minister for economic affairs and finance, deputy governor of the central bank, and deputy oil and economy ministers.

On top of the removal of Trump’s “maximum pressure” sanctions regime, Iranian negotiators are demanding the U.S. lift all sanctions imposed since the American withdrawal in 2018—even those targeting Iranian human rights abuses and sponsorship of regional terrorism, which don’t fall under the purview of the original JCPOA—and unfreeze $10 billion in Iranian assets. Like former President Hassan Rouhani’s negotiating team, Iranian diplomats are refusing to meet directly with the U.S., communicating instead with China, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, and relying on the Europeans to serve as intermediaries.

Tehran’s hardline stance is the latest in a series of aggressive moves over the past year. In April, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)—the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog—reported that Iran had begun to stockpile uranium enriched up to 60 percent purity. And recent Israeli intelligence reportedly shared with the U.S. suggests that Iran is preparing to enrich uranium to 90 percent purity, the threshold necessary to develop a nuclear weapon. Iran has also repeatedly flouted the IAEA’s monitoring mechanisms, depriving the international community full access to its enrichment program. 

Some lawmakers are blaming lax sanctions enforcement for Tehran’s apparent feelings of impunity and willingness to stall negotiations. Trump’s sanctions regime on Iran dealt a blow to the Islamic Republic’s economy, but Iran has reportedly been unofficially exporting more than 500,000 barrels per day of crude oil to China over the past three months, affording the regime a crucial lifeline. 

“Chinese purchases of Iranian crude have continued this year despite the sanctions that, if enforced, would allow Washington to cut off those who violate them from the U.S. economy,” Reuters reported earlier this month. “President Joe Biden’s administration has so far chosen not to enforce the sanctions against Chinese individuals and companies amid negotiations that could revive a 2015 nuclear deal that would allow Iran to sell its oil openly again.”

On Monday, the Washington Free Beacon reported that more than two dozen congressional inquiries into possible Iranian sanctions relief have gone unanswered by the administration. According to the story, Tehran stands to gain “upwards of $90 billion in hard cash” as the result of negotiations, prompting backlash from GOP lawmakers.  

“During the past year, your campaign of maximum concession has resulted in renewed Iranian aggression, including escalating nuclear extortion, regional terror attacks, assassination plots, and an attempt to kidnap a U.S. citizen from her home in Brooklyn, New York,” 25 Republican representatives wrote in a letter to President Biden. “Although many of President Trump’s sanctions technically remain in place, your administration has willfully failed to enforce them on Iran and its proxies. In particular, Iran continues to engage in illicit oil exports to China. Tehran is enriching uranium to higher levels today and engaging in more irreversible nuclear violations than before.” 

Asked Monday if the administration planned to comply with Iran’s condition that the U.S. lift all sanctions imposed since its withdrawal from the JCPOA three years ago, a State Department spokeswoman demurred. “I won’t get into the details or any hypotheticals from here, but I’ll just focus on the goal, which is a mutual return to compliance,” State Department deputy spokeswoman Jalina Porter said. “And of course, as you know, that’s in America’s national interest, and we believe it’s the best available option to restrict Iran’s nuclear program and also provide a platform to address Iran’s destabilizing conduct.”

The administration and other proponents of returning to the deal argue that negotiations, if successful, would give the IAEA crucial access to Iran’s nuclear sites and delay—even if only temporarily—its enrichment of weapons-grade uranium. 

But according to experts, the Biden team’s apparent willingness to make the concessions necessary to re-enter the 2015 agreement—despite its repeated campaign promises of a “longer and stronger” deal—has placed the U.S. in a position of weakness going into the indirect talks. And the Raisi administration’s hardline approach going into Vienna signals an unwillingness to reach a diplomatic settlement.

“Iran appears intent on weaponizing the leverage it has built to elicit sanctions relief while keeping its nuclear program and the knowledge much of its recent advances offer it, intact. Make no mistake, Iran has been in control of the process from the get-go. Everything from the timeline for the latest talks to the fact that America continues to sit outside the actual negotiations room has an Iranian stamp on it,” Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior fellow focusing on Iran at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told The Dispatch. “Washington’s eagerness for an agreement is palpable, and when coupled with its moves in the region in 2021, signal to Tehran that it is not interested in pursuing a policy of rollback, which in turn risks underwriting the next round of Iranian escalation to win what it wants at the negotiation table.”

Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon official and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, compared the Biden administration’s approach to negotiations between parties in a toxic relationship.

“No matter what Iran does, we must be the ones at fault. When they promise to behave like a normal state, they are being sincere even if no one else realizes it,” Rubin said. “Nor is there any reason for Iran to talk indirectly if Tehran is sincere. That we accept such an arrangement puts Tehran in the driver’s seat. It is hard to imagine the Iranian team isn’t laughing at Biden. Every time the IAEA detects a violation, Tehran dangles the possibility of diplomacy and Biden and his European partners shelve any pretense of holding Iran accountable for its actions.”

Worth Your Time

  • Gross domestic product, the unemployment rate, and durable goods orders have all rebounded from their pandemic-era lows, but Jerry Useem argues in The Atlantic that COVID-19 has exacerbated a decades-long erosion of trust in the United States that is hampering economic growth. “Trust is to capitalism what alcohol is to wedding receptions: a social lubricant,” he writes. “People who don’t trust other people think twice before investing in, collaborating with, or hiring someone who isn’t a family member.” And with limited in-person interaction over the past two years, he continues, that trust is waning: “Add to the disruption and isolation of the pandemic a political climate that urges us to meditate on the distance—ethnic, generational, ideological, socioeconomic—separating us from others, and it’s not hard to see why many Americans feel disconnected.”

  • With the Supreme Court set to hear oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization on Wednesday, Yuval Levin and Adam White have a thoughtful piece in National Review examining what our obligations to one another should look like in a potential post-Roe world. “There is a difference between the work of the courts and the work of citizens and their representatives. To confuse the two is a dangerous mistake—and it is a common and increasingly bipartisan mistake,” they write. “But if the courts put the question of abortion back into the public square where it can be taken up in its proper terms, we should approach it with an understanding of what is due to all involved. That must mean protecting vulnerable children, but it must also mean doing more than reversing the polarity of the rights-based arguments over abortion so that the child rather than the mother could then make unlimited claims over the other. Rather, we would need to see that the two are not isolated individuals locked in a power struggle but a mother and child in crisis together and in need of care and support. That need amounts to a claim on the rest of us too, and the politics of abortion once Roe is finally overturned should be a politics that bears the due burden of that claim, and prioritizes families in need.”

  • In an essay for American Purpose, Gary Schmitt outlines what he sees as the “primary problem” and a handful of electoral reforms that could fix it. “Even apart from the question of whether primary voters reflect the views of the broader party (and whether, therefore, primary results are more ‘democratic’), there is now little doubt that an overwhelmingly primary-based selection system, open to all comers, is a loaded gun waiting for a demagogue to pick up, use, and challenge existing political and constitutional norms,” he writes. “No single system is guaranteed to produce candidates who are both popular and fit for office. No selection system can, by itself, fix the current state of our political parties. But an advantage of ranked-choice voting is that it provides a potential corrective to problematic populist campaigning by installing a selection system that can be said to be as democratic as, or even more democratic than, the system currently in place.”

Something Fun

Is this what the ‘70s were like? We were missing out!

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

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Toeing the Company Line

  • On Monday’s Advisory Opinions, Sarah and David explain what’s at the heart of the legal dispute between the New York Times and Project Veritas’ James O’Keefe. Plus: Answering some listener mail and an extended discussion of self-defense law.

  • On the site today, Charlotte writes about Turkey’s drone sales to Ukraine and how they could affect a potential conflict between Ukraine and Russia. 

  • Also, Walter Olson argues that politicians should stop weighing in on criminal trials before verdicts come in, as happened in the Kyle Rittenhouse case. “If we want a judiciary that is independent and impartial, that independence should be both real and visible, free from the appearance as well as the reality of political pressure,” he writes.

Let Us Know

We could probably do a Presented Without Comment every day about major U.S. corporations kowtowing to China’s authoritarian regime. Do these stories change your thinking about the companies involved? Do they affect your behavior? 

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Charlotte Lawson (@lawsonreports), Audrey Fahlberg (@AudreyFahlberg), Ryan Brown (@RyanP_Brown), Harvest Prude (@HarvestPrude), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).