John Kerry Is Vowing to Do Unbelievably Small Things Again

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Nov. 14 2013 12:00 PM

John Kerry Is Vowing to Do Unbelievably Small Things Again

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with reporters at the U.S. Capitol before testifying to the Senate Banking and Urban Affairs Committee behind closed doors on Nov. 13, 2013.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Remember when John Kerry vowed to carry out an “unbelievably small” attack on Syria if Bashar al-Assad didn’t turn over his chemical weapons? His approach to Iran diplomacy is similarly ambitious:

US Secretary of State John Kerry Thursday revealed for the first time that the United States is offering to free up "a tiny portion" of some $45 billion in Iranian assets frozen in bank accounts around the world.
As he campaigns to sell skeptical US lawmakers a nascent deal with Iran to rein in its suspect nuclear program, Kerry insisted "the core sanctions regime does not really get eased."
"Ninety-five percent or more of the current sanctions will remain in place," the top US diplomat told MSNBC in an interview, after talks failed to reach a deal in Geneva at the weekend.
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It’s amusing to poke fun at Kerry—though given that the Syria speech was the same one in which he made the "gaffe" that may have led to a chemical weapons settlement, we probably shouldn't be too quick to judge—but the verbal contortions reveal the difficulty of trying to make bold changes to U.S. foreign policy with a Congress that’s pretty happy with the status quo. Just like airstrikes on Syria—and somewhat ironically given the ties between the two governments—any easing of sanctions on Iran will be a tough sell domestically. So Kerry has to both signal to a foreign government that that the U.S. is making a change while downplaying that change domestically.

It’s not exactly a new dilemma, but I imagine it can seem a little confusing from the outside.  

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

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