The PJ Tatler

Marie Harf on the 'Sort of Big Words and Big Thoughts' of Kissinger and Shultz

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said she heard “a lot of sort of big words and big thoughts” in the piece by former secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz slamming the Iran framework, “but I didn’t hear a lot of alternatives about what they would do differently.”

Kissinger, 91, and Shultz, 94, eviscerated what we know about the negotiations thus far in their Wall Street Journal op-ed, and had a lot of questions for the administration to answer.

“Under the new approach, Iran permanently gives up none of its equipment, facilities or fissile product to achieve the proposed constraints. It only places them under temporary restriction and safeguard—amounting in many cases to a seal at the door of a depot or periodic visits by inspectors to declared sites. The physical magnitude of the effort is daunting. Is the International Atomic Energy Agency technically, and in terms of human resources, up to so complex and vast an assignment?” they wrote in part.

“In a large country with multiple facilities and ample experience in nuclear concealment, violations will be inherently difficult to detect. Devising theoretical models of inspection is one thing. Enforcing compliance, week after week, despite competing international crises and domestic distractions, is another.”

The deans of diplomacy, among many other aspects of the framework, panned the administration’s vow of a year’s warning between noncompliance and Iran having a nuclear weapon. “Compounding the difficulty is the unlikelihood that breakout will be a clear-cut event. More likely it will occur, if it does, via the gradual accumulation of ambiguous evasions.”

Harf was asked about the op-ed at Wednesday’s briefing, and asserted the smackdown was “a little more nuanced” than dissing the administration and its concessions.

“We are all for, you know, robust debate about what this looks like, and that’s why we are being very clear publicly, whether it’s the secretary going out and speaking, having private conversations with former officials, having private conversations with Congress,” she said, refusing to comment on whether Secretary of State John Kerry had consulted with Kissinger and Shultz.

“I wouldn’t say that’s it’s damning,” Harf insisted of the piece. “I think that there are a lot of opinions on this, and the secretary is happy to speak to people to let them know what we’ve done in that conversation will continue.”

“Maybe there’s invisible ink or something like that, or you’re reading between the lines,” a reporter quipped.

“Is there a question or are you just commenting?” Harf snapped back.

Harf was asked about this line from the op-ed: “Unless political restraint is linked to nuclear restraint, an agreement freeing Iran from sanctions risks empowering Iran’s hegemonic efforts.”

“So we have — we have always said that once you start linking the nuclear issue, which is complicated enough on its own, with all these other issues, it’s really hard to get anything done. And we need to deal with — I mean, right now, breakout time is two to three months. Ideally, yes, would we like them to stop supporting Hezbollah? Would we like them to stop supporting the Houthis? Would we like them to release the Americans and have a better human rights record?” Harf replied. “Of course. There are at two to three months of breakout time today. If we have a chance to increase that by up to six times with a nuclear agreement that doesn’t do all those other things we would want them to do, why would we not do that? It just — it defies logic to make that argument.”

“In a perfect world, of course, we would have an agreement that did all of these things, but we are living in the real world. And that’s the responsibility of the secretary, to negotiate where we can see if we can get this one issue dealt with.”

“That would not be the MTV ‘Real World,’ right? That would be the real world,” a reporter quipped.

Asked on Hugh Hewitt’s show about Harf’s “big words and big thoughts” comment, NYT columnist David Brooks said, “Are we in nursery school?”