The Cable

Obama Admin Wins Over Key Hawk on Iran Nuclear Talks

Following a round of high-stakes talks on Iran's nuclear program in Geneva, the Obama administration is seeking to reassure lawmakers it won't give away the house in its negotiations with Tehran. On Friday, its chief nuclear negotiator Wendy Sherman won over a key Iran hawk, Rep. Eliot Engel, during a round of calls to the Hill.

"Under Secretary Sherman told me that the Iranians appeared serious in the recent nuclear talks in Geneva, but cautioned that the devil's in the details, and made clear that U.S. negotiators will remain clear-eyed as they seek to negotiate a deal to end Iran's nuclear weapons program," Engel, the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told The Cable.

A congressional aide said Sherman's assurances dispelled concerns that the White House would scale back its sanctions regime against Iran any time soon. "She was very quick to assuage any concerns that the administration was going to start unilaterally waving sanctions," said the aide. "She made very clear that the sanctions won't be moved until we see verifiable progress. The fears expressed earlier that the administration was going to give away the store don't seem to be well-founded."

The administration is also coming to the Hill with a second message: Hold off on all sanctions. A State Department official tells The Cable the administration wants to stave off new sanctions in the Senate designed to choke off almost all of Iran's remaining international oil sales. But it's unclear how receptive Congress will be.

As the delicate talks with Iran resume on Nov. 7, the administration has sought to engage Iran without infuriating the sizeable bloc of Iran hawks in Congress threatening to slap a new round of sanctions on the country. The support of Engel, who's never shy about criticizing the administration on its more dovish decisions in Syria and Egypt, comes at an important juncture.

On Friday afternoon, following a report in The New York Times that the White House is considering releasing Iran's frozen overseas assets in a future deal, Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) loudly protested any such decision.

"Now is a time to strengthen-not weaken-U.S. and international sanctions," they said. "The U.S. should not suspend new sanctions, nor consider releasing limited frozen assets, before Tehran suspends its nuclear enrichment activities."

On Tuesday, fervent Israel defenders such as Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) and Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) told The Cable they would likely resist any administration efforts to lift sanctions at this time.

But the next flash point in Washington promises to be the Senate Banking Committee, which is eager to take up a new package of sanctions passed by the House in July.

Although Sherman has already begun making phone calls with lawmakers, she's yet to hold classified meetings with them, which promise to go into greater depth about concerns lawmakers have.

The Rouhani government insists on the right to continue enriching uranium on its own soil, something the White House has hinted it might accept under stringent inspections, but hasn't officially accepted. Members of Congress are likely to strongly oppose any such arrangement.

Tehran has also yet to signal a clear willingness to shutter its underground, heavily-fortified nuclear plant at Qom, a source of particular concern for Israel because it is largely impervious to their air strikes, or to dismantle any of its centrifuges.

World powers are likely to demand Iran ship out some of its near-weapons-grade uranium stockpile. Before this week's talks, Iranian diplomat Abbas Araghchi declared such a move a "red line." On Wednesday, he softened that stance: "Red lines should not be an obstacle," he told a small group of journalists. "They are not reversible, but can be dealt with."

It's unclear how the administration plans to strike a deal with the Iranians while pleasing hawks in Congress -- a seemingly impossible task. But while the readout on Sherman's call with Engel was light on details, it appears that she dispelled any notion that the administration is close to giving Iran any relief on sanctions in the near-term.

The Cable

State Department Employees Cleared to Watch WikiLeaks Movie

Ever since WikiLeaks.org began releasing thousands of classified cables, State Department employees have been forbidden from visiting the website without explicit authorization. (Sure, it was a silly prohibition given the proliferation of mainstream newspaper stories based on the WikiLeaks cables, but them's the rules). So how about viewing WikiLeaks the movie?

Not a problem, the State Department tells The Cable. Watching the hotly anticipated WikiLeaks drama Fifth Estate will not place employees on the naughty list.

"The department hasn't issued any sort of guidance on the movie, so there would be no prohibition against the movie," a State Department official said of the film, which debuts nationwide on Friday. "Employees would be free to watch whatever movie they're interested in."

For foreign services officers taken with Benedict Cumberbatch, the rising-star actor whose portrayal of WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange is earning rave reviews, it's good news.

For Julian Assange, not so much. The mercurial activist has gone out of his way to impugn the film, calling it a failed project based on "discredited and "toxic" books that give a "falsified" version of WikiLeaks. "The result is a reactionary snoozefest that only the U.S. government could love," he told the New York Times. (The movie is based on the books Inside WikiLeaks by Daniel Domscheit-Berg and WikiLeaks by David Leigh and Luke Harding.) Earlier reviews describe the Assange character as "obsessed and arrogant, committed and charismatic."

No friend of the State Department, the 2010 Cablegate disclosures hit Foggy Bottom harder than any other U.S. department. The total number of disclosed files amounted to an unprecedented 251,287 documents, seven times larger than the size of the world's previously largest classified release, "The Iraq War Logs."

Now Assange will have to cope with the fact that America's diplomats -- many of whom were reassigned or negatively impacted by the disclosures -- will be watching Cumberbatch's depiction on the big screen. Enjoy the show.