Dennis Ross to Post: If Iran deadline missed, 'reasonable' to keep talking for another 3 to 6 month

Ross, a key adviser on Iran and the Middle East during US President Barack Obama's first term, told The Jerusalem Post that there was both good and bad news in the missed deadline.

June 28, 2015 23:26
3 minute read.
Iran nuclear talks

US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, US Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman (L-3rd L) meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (2nd R) at a hotel in Vienna, Austria June 27, 2015.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

An additional three to six months is a reasonable amount of time to extend the nuclear negotiations with Iran if, as is now expected, the June 30 deadline is missed, Dennis Ross said Sunday.

Ross, a key adviser on Iran and the Middle East during US President Barack Obama’s first term, told The Jerusalem Post that there is both good and bad news in the missed deadline.

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The bad news is that the missed deadline would indicate that the “Iranians have not moved, and if they did move it has been in the wrong direction.”

“The good news,” he said, “is that the administration is sending the Iranians a signal that it will not be pressed by an artificial deadline into making adjustments that don’t fit into what the administration thinks is necessary for an agreement.”

Ross, in the country for 24 hours on Sunday to brief the cabinet on the annual report of the Jewish People Policy Institute, which he co-chairs, said he is “quite happy” to see the administration saying that “if we don’t get what we need, there is no agreement.”

Ross was one of a bipartisan group of US officials and foreign policy experts who issued a statement last week cautioning that an Iran nuclear deal would “fall short of meeting the administration’s own standard of a ‘good’ agreement” unless it included a tougher line on United Nations nuclear inspections and conditions for sanctions relief.

“Most of us would have preferred a stronger agreement,” the statement said. “The agreement will not prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapons capability. It will not require the dismantling of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.”

Ross said that he believes recent hard-line statements made by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, rolling back some of the principles of the framework agreement hammered out at Lausanne earlier in the year, were likely last-minute posturing or maneuvering to see what more Iran could get.

If these comments were not just posturing, he said, “then a deal is probably not going to happen.”

Ross suggested that the US and P5+1 negotiators focus on the content of an agreement, adhering to the core principles that were already agreed upon at Lausanne, and not on meeting artificial deadlines.

“I don’t mind extending this for some period of time to make clear to the Iranians that we are not going to back off,” he said.

Ross said that eventually the determination needs to be made whether a deal is possible, but that he has “no problem” taking some time in making that determination.

“The Iranian style of negotiation is to hold out until the last minute and try to use the pressure of deadlines against us, to have us come up with creative solutions,” he said.

“Well, the answer to that ought to be that if you are not willing to respond to what we identified as the essential minimum requirements, then there will not be a deal.”

Ross said that it would be wise to begin “building the narrative” of what the Iranians turned down, so that – if need be – it will be easier to once again sustain a robust sanctions regime against them.

“Context matters,” he said.

“If it looks like the Iranians had a chance to do a deal and chose not to do so, it is a whole lot easier to sustain a sanctions regime. Whether there will be an appetite to build on it is one thing, but certainly it becomes far easier to sustain a sanctions regime.”

Regarding what Israel should be doing now, Ross said that if indeed the deadline is missed, “I think the prime minister should welcome the idea that there is no rush to an agreement – at a minimum it would be smart to do that.”

Ross said that such a statement would signal that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “realizes there is a readiness on the part of the administration and others not simply to accept any agreement.”

Ross cautioned against overstating the significance of such a statement “at a time when the overall character of the [US-Israel] relationship is characterized by tension.”

But, he added, “it would begin to send signals that maybe we see that you are not rushing to a bad agreement, and we want you to know that we recognize that.”

While this is not something that would be “transformative,” he said, “when you are trying to manage relations in a certain way, you are looking for opportunities.”

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