by Eli Clifton
Say what you will about pressure group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), from their connections to Iran-conflict profiteering to allegations of ties to intelligence agencies, they leave a path of unanswered questions about their motivations, funding, and mission. But over the past week, the group’s ability to push for tighter sanctions on Iran and evermore hawkish U.S. negotiating positions seems to be slipping.
Last Wednesday, I reported on this blog that UANI President Gary Samore predicted that Congress is unlikely to stand in the way of a nuclear deal with Iran. And once the deal was announced on Thursday, UANI members had little bad to say about the White House’s framework agreement.
Samore and advisory board member Olli Heinonen were cited in The New York Times’ first write-up of the agreement as “skeptical experts” who were “impressed” by the deal. Samore praised the agreement’s “very satisfactory resolution of Fordo and Arak issues for the 15-year term” of the accord, and Heinonen assessed it as “a fairly comprehensive deal with most important parameters.”
The following day Graham Allison, director of Harvard’s Belfer center (where Samore and Heinonen also hold positions) published a piece in The Atlantic, “assessing the impact of the accord.” He concluded, “Obama administration and its indefatigable secretary of state deserve a hearty round of applause for what has been achieved at this point.”
But Samore’s defense of the deal wasn’t done yet. On Monday, he made a series of statements supporting the deal and defending it against critics in Congress and Israel.
First, his name appeared on a letter issued by The Iran Project, a group promoting better ties between Iranian and U.S. officials. The letter, whose signatories included former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and former National Security Advisors Brent Scowcroft, Sandy Berger, and Zbigniew Brzezinski, welcomed the framework agreement and “[called] on the U.S. Congress to take no action that would impede further progress or undermine the American negotiators’ efforts to complete the final comprehensive agreement on time.”
Then Samore published a column in Foreign Affairs, titled “Deal With It,” urging Congress to stop threatening sanctions legislation, warning that “such threats strengthen Iran’s hand by putting pressure on the U.S. negotiators to make concessions to avoid congressional action that would blow up the talks.”
But the day wasn’t over yet and Samore, who is emerging as one of the framework agreement’s more energized defenders, took to the phone for an Israel Policy Forum-sponsored teleconference.
Samore told the participants that “it’s an impressive array of concessions Iran has made,” and acknowledged he’s “surprised by how much [Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei] was willing to concede.”
He also provided details from his time in the Obama administration on the strategic calculations about a possible military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. “Nobody could predict with any confidence what the Iranian counter-stroke would be,” Samore said, and there was “concern that if we bombed these facilities it would give the Iranians a good justification for leaving the [Non-Proliferation Treaty].”
Samore, in another slap at congressional efforts to derail the administration’s negotiations in Lausanne, Switzerland, expressed his concern about efforts to bring the Corker-Menendez bill to a vote before a final agreement has been reached. “The Iranians have been taking advantage of the tensions between Congress and the White House,” said Samore.
But his harshest criticism was saved for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a close friend of UANI funder Sheldon Adelson. “I think he’s motivated by a very sincere concern about this agreement and obviously he feels very deeply that the agreement isn’t adequate,” said Samore. “I don’t think it’s very likely that his objections are going to be very effective. And I worry that some of the things he’s done to politicize the issue have probably made it easier for the White House to persuade Democrats in Congress to support them.”
Finally, Samore ended the call warning that “in terms of Israel’s isolation with other countries, I think the Palestinian issue and settlements is a far more dangerous concern to Israel’s legitimacy than the Iran nuclear issue.”
For those keeping count, two of UANI’s advisory board members are effectively backing the deal, and the group’s president is slamming congressional efforts to block the framework agreement. And Samore would like Israel to deal with its construction of illegal settlements before interfering with a nuclear agreement reached by the P5+1 and Iran. UANI still hasn’t issued a statement about the framework agreement.
Sheldon Adelson may be wondering what exactly his $500,000 contribution to UANI went to support.