The State Department briefings are amusing in this administration not for the information they impart (there’s precious little of that) but for the insight they provide into the delusional thinking that permeates this administration on most every encounter with foes and with the Iranians specifically. The Associated Press’s Matthew Lee asked a State Department spokeswoman on Monday about chief negotiator Wendy Sherman’s comments in a Senate briefing that “Deception is part of the DNA of the Iranian leadership.”
Here’s only one part of the back-and-forth:
QUESTION: So are you saying she misspoke?
MS. HARF: No, no. Not at all. The President in his UNGA [U.N. General Assembly] speech said that there are decades and a long history of mistrust. This mistrust has deep roots, and we don’t think it can be overcome overnight, but we made some progress last week in Geneva, and we hope to continue making progress, including with additional bilateral meetings going forward.
QUESTION: Well, there is a difference between deep mistrust and saying that deception is in their DNA. If it’s in their DNA, that means they can’t ever change. Right?
MS. HARF: I don’t — I guess I don’t have any further comment on that than this. We —
QUESTION: So —
MS. HARF: — had good meetings last week.
QUESTION: I —
MS. HARF: Undersecretary Sherman had a good bilateral meeting with her Iranian counterparts and we believe we began to make progress and hope to continue to do so.
QUESTION: Maybe this is something that stem cells can fix, yeah? Can you explain — Undersecretary Sherman, when she made those comments on the Hill, was talking specifically about President Rouhani in his previous capacity as an — as the Iranian nuclear negotiator when she said deception runs in the DNA.
MS. HARF: Well, I think we’ve made a lot of comments about —
QUESTION: So —
MS. HARF: — President Rouhani over the past —
QUESTION: Do you not —
MS. HARF: — few weeks and, I think, months at this point.
QUESTION: So you don’t believe that President Rouhani is genetically incapable of being not deceptive? Do you — is that correct?
MS. HARF: We have said repeatedly over the last few weeks and months that President Rouhani — that we are encouraged by the words he said. We are encouraged with his conversation with President Obama. We’re encouraged by Foreign Minister Zarif’s conversations that he had with the Secretary and then at the P5+1. We also have said coming out of the P5+1 that there — this was a new level of seriousness, this was a new level of specificity in these talks that we have never seen before. That’s what we’re focused on and that’s what we’re focused on going forward.
QUESTION: So Undersecretary Sherman’s comment was not meant to imply that President Rouhani is genetically incapable of telling the truth or being —
MS. HARF: In no way. We’ve been very clear that we appreciate some of the — many of the things President Rouhani has said, that we appreciate the tone coming out of him and the rest of the Iranian delegation to the P5+1, and hope to continue that tone going forward.
QUESTION: And the Iranians, have they done anything to reassure you in deed, not only in words, (inaudible)?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any update for you. I know we’ve talked a lot about what happened at the P5+1, and we’re looking forward to the talks on the seventh and eighth in Geneva and an experts meeting between now and then.
QUESTION: No, I mean in terms of (inaudible) Iran, so to speak, speaking — talking with the opposition, if there is such an — if there is an opposition, in terms of human rights and civil rights and so on. Have they done anything that sort of reassures you on their (inaudible) as well as in the words?
MS. HARF: Well, again, that’s separate from the P5+1. Right?
QUESTION: Right, separate. Right.
MS. HARF: That’s all about the nuclear program. On the issues you’re asking about, we’ve talked in this room a little bit about the fact — I think I did this a few weeks ago when there had been some folks who had been released from prison. I noted that a couple weeks ago. Also, we’ve made it clear when we still have issues with either Americans that are still detained there or other issues of human rights in Iran, so we’ll continue talking about those as they arise.
QUESTION: So they have taken some steps to engender your trust, right?
MS. HARF: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: They have taken some steps to engender your trust?
MS. HARF: Again, we had — on the nuclear issue, at the P5+1, we had helpful discussions, and we hope those will continue.
QUESTION: So are you aware of this American pastor who has been apparently arrested in Iran from — this guy from Los Angeles, or southern California?
MS. HARF: Yes. Let me see what I have on him. We are aware of the reports that a U.S. citizen has been detained in Iran, and due to privacy considerations, have no further comment or detail at this time.
Around and around they go. The short version: Sherman inadvertently told the truth, which sheds light on her current happy talk. The Iranians have done absolutely nothing but talk, and it is on that basis alone that the administration is so perky about the prospects for a deal. Congress had better step up to the plate and fast, both to pass additional sanctions and to warn the administration the lawmakers have no intention of going along with a phony deal that lets Iran keep its program and its enriched fuel stockpile.