What’s Going On With The U.S. Senate And Iran Right Now, Explained


You have seen the headlines – of that, I’m sure. I have seen them too, volleying back and forth, as headlines are wont to do. As each of these headlines, spelling “IRAN” in bold font, hit the news circuit, the typical questions arise.

First: John Kerry seems to be making some progressive strides with Iran. They are negotiating. They are negotiating an agreement about the production of nuclear weapons. Specifically, Iran’s production of Nuclear weapons. That is better than what we were doing, right? They’re talking and talking beats sanctions and talking beats a standstill.

Then: Questions regarding the content of these talks begin to trickle in. You may have had these questions yourself, or heard them from others. Specifically, questions like, what exactly is it that they are talking about? Iran seems eager, but we do too.

And how many centrifuges are we saying is A-Okay? Speaking of which, what are centrifuges? Wikipedia says a centrifuge “works using the sedimentation principle, where the centripetal acceleration causes denser substances and particles to move outward in the radial direction,” and I wonder if that means as little to you as it does to me.

Furthermore, John Boehner, our Speaker of the House, brought Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister, in on this. Israel’s closer to Iran, so they have more at stake. But wait: Why didn’t Boehner keep the White House privy to the invitation?

And why are Netanyahu’s eyebrows furrowed? Maybe because Netanyahu thinks, as he publicly told the world in Spain, that the US negotiations are bad, in that he claims they will allow Iran a dangerous capability.

President Barrack Obama rebuts. He says Netanyahu provides no better alternative, implicitly stating: ‘Hey, at least we’re trying something.’

But is something always better than nothing? If I had to choose between some cobwebs in my sub sandwich and no cobwebs in my sub sandwich, I do hope that I would choose the latter. Unless it were an issue of courtesy, and note:
Courtesy is important in diplomacy as well.

So, between the centrifuges, nuclear arms, Netanyahu and Obama, Iran and the cobwebs in my submarine sandwich, what exactly is going on?

I guess we should re-hash a little about Iran.

Iran is the country in the Middle East that you would not generally wish to go backpacking in, unless the other options were either Libya or Syria. Iran is the country that bridges Turkey, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia to Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, splitting the Gulf of Persia from the Caspian Sea.

Iran is the country that gave President Carter so much flack back in the late 70’s, after Ben Affleck had to swoop in and save all of those hostages taken from our Embassy (or, rather, as Ben Affleck later depicted himself as doing in Argo). Iran is the country we really don’t want having a nuclear weapon, but is also the country that seems most hellbent on securing one.

They’ve been trying since the late sixties.

Iran’s government is officially a republic, or an Islamic Republic, but they have detained enough civilian journalists and ordinary concerned citizens for us to think of the state as little more than a hard-lining autocracy. Largely due to the fact that official candidates are selected and brought to task by the Supreme Council of Ayatollahs – the key words being Supreme Council, which sounds like something Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars might fashion.

So we are not entirely sure we want Iran to have a nuclear weapon at all. If it it is that easy to draw a parallel between fictional dystopian empire headed by a Sith lord and an an actual country in a famously tumultuous and war torn area, we may not want to bring nuclear armament into the equation.

Of course, in America we have a considerable number of warheads ourselves – much more than any other country – and that makes things prickly. It’s hard to be the parent telling a child to not eat chocolate when one has a Hershey’s lodged half-way down one’s windpipe. It’s hard to be the parent when you are not a parent at all. The analogy being that as a nation, America has realized the tenuous nature of its, occasionally hypocritical, parental role in international affairs.

Iran is, wherever and however we stand, its own sovereign nation. Who are we to tell them that they cannot defend themselves in any way they see fit? Remember some of the bordering nations mentioned earlier? It is not as though the Middle East is exactly renown for its peaceful stability.

So goes the logic that John Kerry, as Secretary of State, is employing with these recent talks. Essentially, we are negotiating with Iran less about whether they be allowed a nuclear capability, and more about when and how much.

The exact details of the talks remain confidential, but it remains clear that Iran will be allowed a certain number of centrifuges, at some point, which hypothetically will enable the production of nuclear arms, within, however, strict parameters that we are currently trying to strike a deal on.

It would seem that in some respect, we are conceding the outcome of Iran’s eventual nuclear armament as somewhat inevitable. By agreeing to at least talk it through with Iran with the intent to come to some sort of progressive deal, we are trying to reserve at least some modicum of input and control in a possibly volatile situation.

For the crux of the agreement, which needs to be reached by June for it to bear any teeth, is all about Iran’s ability to produce nuclear fuel. The idea is for Iran to agree to severely limit their production of such for about ten years, before growing more lax on restrictive measures.

As per our previous strategy, we jettisoned as many economic trade sanctions toward Iran as we could, basically barring all Iranian rugs on the western market. But sanctions are – at best – a stopgap, and could actually further embolden a war-like zeal of an autocratic government that feels spited. If anything, sanctions hurt the citizens as much as, if not more than, the government.

However, all of this recent hoopla you’ve been hearing about revolves around the Republican Party’s hesitance regarding a deal that gives Iran any nuclear leeway whatsoever. But before piling onto the party, or rushing to their defense, can we agree that some hesitancy makes sense? Given our history (70’s hostage crisis, anyone? See Argo) with Iran, it is safe to say that we are not exactly friends and that nuclear weapons are, well, scary. It is reasonable to be scared. The Republicans seem scared and Netanyahu does as well.

Benjamin Netanyahu, as I’m sure you know, is Israel’s Prime Minister. Israel is the one bona fide bestie we have in the Middle East. Except Israel seems less enamored with the idea of progressive talks that might end up allowing Iran any sort of nuclear capability, no matter how limited.

That is reasonable as well.

Israel is not protected by two oceans like we, in America, are. They are not even buffered by that much landmass. Geopolitically speaking, a nuclear weapon might afford Iran leverage that Israel, understandably, does not wish Iran to have.

Sensing a common purpose with Israel, John Boehner, Speaker of the House – a position that gives him some de facto leadership over the Republican majority – invited Israel’s Prime Minister, Netanyahu, to talk without informing the White House – meaning Obama and his aministration – of the invite.

See how persnickety the whole thing is?

The act symbolized a subtle dig to the Executive, as the Republicans actively cozy with the Israeli Prime Minister, both of whom are actively trying to undermine the Obama Administration’s talks with Iran.

President Obama says he’s not hurt. He claims he couldn’t talk to Netanyahu anyways because of a law barring any presidential contact with a foreign leader during a certain time span preceding an election.

If this whole controversy makes you feel as though our world is being run by adults sporting the mentality of middle-schoolers, you could not easily be faulted.

Lastly, the Senate has made moves as well. The Republican Senator Tom Cotton recently prepared an open letter to the Islamic Republic of Iran, essentially stating that congress could actively hinder any deals made between Iran and the White House and that all treaties could be overturned (hint, hint: Elections in 2016).

The open letter was signed by 47 Republican members of the Senate (there were Republican senators who openly denounced the letter as well). Some of the legal points made in the letter are, of course, being brought into dispute, but shouldn’t congress have some say in any government deal with Iran, especially when eventual nuclear armament is at stake? But it also begs the question, should congress really let partisan ties interfere with foreign freaking policy?!

If you are cynical, you might believe that the alleged Republican agenda to stop anything that Obama tries to achieve is now being extended to messing with foreign talks with other nations. That would be scary. Scary because foreign relations would be dictated by motivations that have little to do with the world’s best interests.

If you are less cynical, you might believe that certain Republicans in Congress are acting out of a genuine apprehension with what this deal might allow Iran. Either way you slice it, congress has never interfered as openly with the executive’s foreign policy aims.

This deal is essentially the administration’s attempt at compromise. And you know what they say, the best compromises leave no party happy.

So the answer as to what exactly is going on in Iran right now might be simply, if with a somewhat reductionist ease, nothing. Nothing yet. At least as it pertains to Iran’s eventual procurement of nuclear arms. If anything, we are playing a waiting game. How long we will wait, and even what it is we are waiting for, remains undetermined.