At the end of the week, the Iran deal has sprung another leak—this one coming from the French government. Josh Rogin (who’s been doing some of the best reporting out there on the subject) has the report at Bloomberg:
The French official, Jacques Audibert, is now the senior diplomatic adviser to President Francois Hollande. Before that, as the director general for political affairs in the Foreign Ministry from 2009 to 2014, he led the French diplomatic team in the discussions with Iran and the P5+1 group. Earlier this month, he met with Democrat Loretta Sanchez and Republican Mike Turner, both top members of the House Armed Services Committee, to discuss the Iran deal. The U.S. ambassador to France, Jane Hartley, was also in the room.
According to both lawmakers, Audibert expressed support for the deal overall, but also directly disputed Kerry’s claim that a Congressional rejection of the Iran deal would result in the worst of all worlds, the collapse of sanctions and Iran racing to the bomb without restrictions.
“He basically said, if Congress votes this down, there will be some saber-rattling and some chaos for a year or two, but in the end nothing will change and Iran will come back to the table to negotiate again and that would be to our advantage,” Sanchez told me in an interview. “He thought if the Congress voted it down, that we could get a better deal.”
Despite an initial denial from the French Embassy and the U.S. Ambassador to France, multiple Members of Congress have since confirmed the report in full, and Audibert has confirmed it in one (essential) part.
That has to be embarrassing to the defenders of the deal, who have made much recently of the supposed binary choice between the deal or war. But more broadly, it’s damaging not so much in and of itself—U.S. policy will not stand or fall based solely on the opinion of a French National Security Advisor—but because it comes as the latest as in a line of leaks to damage the deal’s chances.
Sen. Cotton and Rep. Pompeo in mid-July revealed the existence of Iranian “side-deals” with the IAEA that neither the Administration will be allowed to see (in possible violation of Corker-Menendez) before Congress votes. Various commentators have pointed out that a close reading of the deal seem to indicate that Iran can delay site inspections by 24 days or more, that snap-back sanctions would exclude any details signed between the lifting of sanctions and reimposition, that Iran may well be able to back out whenever it likes (Para. 36 and Para. 37), and that it may get to submit its own soil samples to the IAEA. Secretary Kerry can’t stop putting his foot in his mouth when defending the deal—which he’s doing a lot these days, often on camera and under oath. And as per Sen. Corker, the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Iran is already alleging that U.S. rhetoric alone compromises a material breach of the deal—while rattling sabres in Tehran aplenty.
Meanwhile, new discoveries in the text or leaks from international bodies that strengthen the case for the deal are hard to come by. That disparity is not an accident. For obvious reasons, the President and his team had access to the deal long before anyone who opposed it, and they had both the ability and the incentive to put their best foot forward. So the initial statements by the President and his team on July 14, when the deal was announced, and in its immediate aftermath, represent the best case for the deal—the most favorable mix of details and positive spin that’s likely possible. The White House can still point to bright and/or famous supporters to make the case for the JPOA, make promises or threats to cajole reluctant lawmakers not to override its veto, and in short utilize the full powers of the Presidency to sell the deal. The President can make new offers of support to Israel or Saudi Arabia, or if he gets bold, even act in Syria to reassure the Sunni powers this is not a regional cave. But it’s likely that almost every major revelation, discovery, or big new argument to hit the papers in the next few weeks relating to the Iran deal itself will be ones that tell against the JPOA.
Now, despite the fondest wish of every reporter, no one revelation or leak is likely to sink the agreement. But in aggregate, they represent the vessel of the JPOA taking on water—a little here and a little there, some bigger, some smaller, some persuading this Congressman who backs Israel strongly (or knows his constituents do), another this Senator who needs the inspections regime to be airtight. And 60 days is a long time to be leaking, even if you’re bailing as fast as you can.