TRNS News Notes is brought to you by Victoria Jones. Victoria Jones is the Chief White House correspondent and global analyst of the Washington DC based Talk Radio News Service, where her insight and analysis are made available to over 400 news talk radio stations around the country and internationally.

In the News

  • Obama: Iran nuke deal “our best bet”
  • The Obama Doctrine
  • Iran deal: Two sides / two stories
  • Iran deal: Pols debate
  • Indiana: Jindal, Santorum regret changes
  • Rand prepares to stand: 2016
  • Kenya: 3 days of mourning
  • Constitutional convention/chaos coming?
  • Rolling Stone UVa rape story: report slams
  • Lost at sea 66 days: Really?
Obama: Iran Nuke Deal “Our Best Bet”
• President Obama strongly defended last week’s preliminary nuclear agreement with Iran in an interview with NYT’s Thomas Friedman over the weekend. “This is our best bet to make sure Iran doesn’t get a nuclear weapon.” Obama provided new details about the deal in the interview (NYT, me)

• “What we will be doing even as we enter into this deal is sending a very clear message to the Iranians and to the entire region that if anybody messes with Israel, America will be there.” Obama emphasized to Israel that “we’ve got their backs” in the face of Iranian hostility

• Obama said “I respect” Israeli PM Netanyahu’s security argument and agreed that Israelis “have every right to be concerned about Iran.” “I would consider it a failure on my part, a fundamental failure of my presidency, if on my watch, or as a consequence of work that I had done, Israel was rendered more vulnerable.”

• “My hope is that we can find something that allows Congress to express itself but does not encroach on traditional presidential prerogatives and ensures that if in fact we get a good deal we can go ahead and implement it,” Obama said – in other words, not a binding vote. Congress won’t go for that

• Under the deal, Iran would limit enrichment of uranium at its Natanz facility to a level useful only for civilian purposes; cut back the number of centrifuges by approx two-thirds; convert Fordo enrichment facility into a research center; and modify Arak heavy-water reactor to render it incapable of producing plutonium for a bomb

• In the deal, the structure of international sanctions was left vague, as was the timing for lifting sanctions. Obama said that inspectors would be able to watch “the entire nuclear chain.” IAEA inspectors, he said, “can go anyplace.” But the admin has been vague about “anyplace” and Iran has said it wouldn’t be required to allow inspections of military bases

• “Iran could object,” Obama acknowledged, “but what we have done is to try to design a mechanism whereby once those objections are heard, that is not a final veto that Iran has but in fact some sort of international mechanism will be in place to make a fair assessment

• Obama said sanctions would be lifted only after Iran lived up to its commitments. “There are still details to be worked out, but I think that the basic framework calls for Iran to take the steps that it needs to around Fordo, the centrifuges and so forth. At that point, then the UN sanctions are suspended.” Iran says they’ll be “canceled”

• Obama said the U.S. would “preserve the ability to snap back those sanctions if there is a violation.” He added that separate sanctions imposed for other reasons, namely Iran’s sponsorship of terrorists and its ballistic missile program, would remain in place

The Obama Doctrine
• Obama said almost nothing about how the U.S. and its allies would force Iran to answer questions about suspected past work on weapons designs. For years, Iran has blocked inspectors from visiting labs where such work is believed to have been conducted

• Obama admitted he remained uncertain about the intentions of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini. “He’s a pretty tough read.” The ayatollah’s letters, Obama said, are filled with “a lot of reminders of what he perceives as past grievances with Iran.” (#getoveritali)

• Obama held out hope that the deal would empower more moderate figures, though he wasn’t counting on it. If it didn’t, the U.S. retains “the most firepower” to address any contingencies. “It’s not as if in all these conversations, I’m leaving all my, you know, rifles at the door.” (rifles?)

• Asked about an Obama Doctrine, he said, “The doctrine is we will engage, but we preserve all our capabilities. And I’ve been very clear that Iran will not get a nuclear weapon on my watch, and I think they should understand that we mean it.”

Iran Deal: Two Sides – Two Stories

• A careful NYT review of more detailed accounts of the U.S. Iran nuclear agreement in Lausanne shows there’s considerable overlap between the two accounts, but also some noteworthy differences, especially on the question of how quickly sanctions are to be removed (NYT, me)

• The two sides decided that each would issue its own statement. American officials acknowledge that they didn’t inform the Iranians in advance of all the “parameters” the U.S. would make public. “We talked to them and told them that we would have to say some things,” said a senior admin official. “We didn’t show them the paper.” Iranian FM

• Javad Zarif accused the U.S. of “spin” on Thursday. On Iranian state TV Saturday, Zarif said that Iran had formally complained to SecState John Kerry that that the measures in the American statement were “in contradiction” to what had actually been accepted in Lausanne. Zarif didn’t challenge any nuclear provisions in the American doc

• David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security and an expert who has closely monitored the talks, said, “Iran conceded a considerable amount in this deal, and Zarif and Rouhani may want to break the news back home slowly.” “Iran may believe it created additional room to backtrack on its commitments” in the next three months

Dueling Differences

• The Iranian statement emphasizes that nuclear cooperation between Iran and the six world powers that negotiated the agreement will grow in several areas. That potential cooperation isn’t mentioned in the American statement (NYT, me)

• The American statement says that Iran will be barred from using its advanced centrifuges to produce uranium for at least 10 years. Before those 10 years are up, Iran will be able to conduct some “limited” research on the centrifuges. The Iranian version omits the word “limited.”

• The starkest differences concern the pace at which punishing economic sanctions against Iran are to be removed. The Iranian text says that when the deal is implemented, sanctions will “immediately” be canceled. American officials have described sanctions relief as more of a step-by-step process tied to Iranian efforts to carry out the accord

• On Fordo, it’s agreed that Iran will be allowed to convert the underground nuclear installation to a science and tech center. The American statement notes that almost two thirds of the centrifuges will be removed and that none of those that remain will be used to enrich uranium for 15 years. Obama admin officials assert it carries no serious risk for the U.S.

• The Iranian statement stresses that the deal means that more than 1,000 of the centrifuges will be kept there, though it suggests only several hundred will be in operation to produce industrial or medical isotopes. Iranian media reports that the deputy FM said the modifications made at Fordo could be rapidly reversed if the U.S. didn’t hold up its end of the deal

Pols Debate Iran Deal
• Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu said on CNN Sunday, “I think the alternatives are not either this bad deal or war, I think there’s a third alternative. And that is standing firm, ratcheting up the pressure, until you get a better deal. A better deal would roll back Iran’s vast nuclear infrastructure and require Iran to stop its aggression in the region, its terror worldwide and its calls and actions to annihilate the state of Israel.”

• Energy Sec Ernest Moniz said on CBS’ Face the Nation Sunday that the deal is a long-term arrangement, with requirements lasting a quarter century or longer. “We’ll have eyes on the entire supply chain of uranium. Going back to mines, the mills, we’ll have continuous surveillance of centrifuge production.” (AP, Bloomberg, Haaretz, Hill, TRNS, me)

• Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Bob Corker (R-TN) said on Fox New Sunday that Congress has a responsibility to scour the details of a final plan and then vote on it. “It’s very important that Congress is in the middle of this, understanding, teasing out, asking those important questions.”

• Sen Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said on CNN Sunday that it’s not helpful for Israel to come out and oppose this one opportunity to change a major dynamic – which is downhill – in this part of the world.” “I wish that he
[Netanyahu] would contain himself, because he has put out no real alternative,” she said

• Ben Rhodes, WH deputy national security adviser, said Sunday on CNN: “I don’t think we’re going to convince Prime Minister Netanyahu.”

John Oliver interviews NSA leaker Edward Snowden on Last Week Tonight on Sunday. He asks him the most straightforward, toughest (and funniest) questions that anyone has asked to date, including whether it was a “fu*k-up” that Snowden didn’t first read the docs he was leaking to see if they could be harmful (concludes it was)
Indiana: Jindal, Santorum Regret Changes
• Gov Bobby Jindal (R-LA), a potential 2016er, said on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday, “I don’t think the govt should be able to force somebody to contradict their own sincerely held religious beliefs to participate in wedding ceremonies.” Also: “I’m not saying a restaurant should be able to turn away people who want to come in an eat there.” Louisiana is planning its own religious freedom law

• Former Sen Rick Santorum (R-LA), a likely 2016er, said on CBS’s Face the Nation Sunday that Gov Mike Pence (R-IN) had weathered a difficult storm over his state’s controversial religious freedom law. “I was hoping he wouldn’t change it.” Santorum judged Pence’s changes as “acceptable” given the circumstances (Hill, AP, Buzzfeed, HuffPo, me)

• Former Gov Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA) wrote an op-ed in WaPo Friday in which he said, “As a Republican, I’m furious. Distracting, divisive laws like the one Indiana passed aren’t just bad for the country, they’re also bad for our party.”

• Hundreds of protesters Saturday descended on Indianapolis and rallied for greater protection of Indiana’s gay community during the NCAA college basketball tournament’s Final Four. “Hoosiers don’t discriminate,” marchers chanted

• Gov Dannel Malloy (D-CT) and Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) on Saturday unfroze taxpayer-funded travel between their states and Indiana after a national standoff over the Hoosier state’s religious freedom law. Gov Jay Inslee (D-WA) ended his state’s ban on Friday

• The International Committee of the Red Cross is due to make two emergency aid flights with staff and medical supplies into Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, which it says is facing a humanitarian emergency. Saudi-led airstrikes targeting Iran-backed Houthi rebels have hit the country for 12 nights (BBC)
Rand Prepares to Stand
• As Sen Rand Paul (R-KY) prepares to make his formal 2016 presidential announcement Tuesday, he’s a candidate who has turned fuzzy, having trimmed his positions and rhetoric so much that it’s unclear what kind of Republican he will present himself as when he takes the stage (WaPo, me)

• Where he once pledged to sharply cut the Pentagon’s budget, Paul late last month proposed a $190 billion increase over the next two years. An announcement tour will include an event at Patriots Point in South Carolina’s Charleston Harbor, with the WWII-era aircraft carrier USS Yorktown as a backdrop

• Paul’s haziness increased last week when his office said he was vacationing with his family and wouldn’t comment on Indiana’s new religious liberties law, which critics say would allow discrimination against gays, or on President Obama’s nuclear negotiations with Iran

Rand Paul’s 2016 tease – heavy on rolled-up sleeves, jeans – and unintentional endorsements from TV pundits

• What Paul says Tuesday and over the following days will be closely watched by a number of constituencies into which he’s tried to make inroads, including Silicon Valley executives drawn to his libertarian ways and more traditional Republican business leaders who are wary of them. Many remain unsure of his electability

• Paul’s been courting the evangelical vote recently. He’s also tried to reach out to African-American voters with visits to historically black colleges. While some conservatives have cheered his efforts and his calls for criminal justice reform, others say he has not connected with African-Americans

• Nick Gillespie, editor-in-chief of the libertarian magazine Reason, said, “To the extent he sounds more like every conservative Republican, he sounds less interesting to libertarians, I don’t see what he picks up by being a version of Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio.” But: “He’s not a doctrinaire libertarian. He’s libertarian-ish. He’s not his father.”

• Someone connected to Hillary Clinton on Friday signed a lease on a campaign office space in Brooklyn, out of which the organization will run its national campaign. That would formally qualify Clinton as a federal candidate for office under FEC rules – meaning that she has just 15 days to formally declare her candidacy (finally) (Politico, TRNS)

Kenya: 3 Days of Mourning
• Kenya is holding three days of mourning for the 148 victims of an attack on students by militant group al Shabab. Easter ceremonies were held Sunday to remember those who died on Thursday at Garissa University. President Uhuru Kenyatta has vowed to respond “in the severest way possible.” (BBC, me)

• One of the four gunmen who carried out the attack has been identified as the son of a local chief in the north-east of the country. “The father had reported to security agents that his son had disappeared from home and was helping the police try to trace his son,” said a military spox. The son was an “upcoming lawyer.”

• The four gunmen were killed in the siege and officials said they were holding five people for questioning. Buses have been transporting more than 600 students and about 50 staff who survived the attacks to their hometowns. Christians were targeted in the attack while Muslims were spared

• Both Christians and Muslims have denounced the attack and have vowed that they will remain united. On Sunday, Sunni Islam’s most respected seat of learning, Cairo’s al-Azhar University, said it condemned the “terrorist attack.” Pope Francis used his Easter Sunday message to pray for the victims

• Saturday, Kenyatta said that al Shabab posed an “existential threat” to Kenya. He vowed to “fight terrorism to the end” and said the militants wouldn’t succeed in their aim of creating an Islamic caliphate in Kenya. There has been criticism in Garissa that only two security guards were on duty despite official warnings that at attack on a university was likely
• Gov Jerry Brown (D-CA) on Sunday defended the state’s mandatory water limits. “Of course we can shut it [agriculture] off, if you don’t want to produce any food, and you want to import it from some other place, theoretically you can do that,” Brown said on ABC’s This Week (Hill)
Constitutional Convention Coming?
• Conservative state legislators fed up with the gridlock in Washington are increasingly turning to a plan to call a convention to consider a new amendment to the U.S. Constitution – an event that could, some opponents predict, lead to complete political chaos (WaPo, me)

• Legislators in 27 states have passed applications for a convention to pass a balanced budget amendment. Proponents of a balanced budget requirement are planning to push for new applications in nine other states where Republicans control both chambers of the legislature

• If those applications pass in seven of the nine targeted states, it would bring the number of applications up to 34, meeting the two-thirds requirement under Article V of the Constitution to force Congress to call a convention. What happens next is anyone’s guess (crazy town is what would happen)

• The problem is that the Constitution is silent on how a convention would operate. How many delegates each state would receive, the rules, who would set the agenda – all would be up for grabs

Convention Chaos Coming?
• Most worrying to some who oppose the convention: There’s no indication that a convention could be limited to just one topic. Michael Leachman at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which opposes a convention, says, “You’d have every interest group in the country recognizing that, if you’re opening up the Constitution, they want in on that.”

• Legislation to call a convention to consider a balanced budget amendment is pending in four of the nine targeted states – Idaho, Arizona, South Carolina and Oklahoma.  Bills to call a convention failed in four others: Virginia, Wyoming, West Virginia and Montana. No bill has yet been introduced in Wisconsin

• But even the number of states with live apps is up for debate. The Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force, a group with close ties to the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) says the 16 apps from the 70s and 80s remain valid, putting the number of states with live apps at 27 (of course ALEC does – sounds like it’s behind it)

• “This is by far the most dangerous thing in the country today,” said Fred Wertheimer, who heads the campaign finance advocacy group Democracy 21. “If we ever got [to a convention], this would create a constitutional crisis unlike anything we’re seen in our lifetimes.”

• David Wihby, 61, New Hampshire state director for Sen Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) has resigned after he was arrested Friday night in a prostitution sting at a hotel in NH. Suspects in the sting were allegedly responding to ads from women online (Hill)


Rolling Stone Retracts UVa Rape Article: Scathing Report
• Rolling Stone magazine retracted a widely discredited article about an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia after the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism issued a scathing report Sunday concluding it had failed to meet proper journalistic standards (AP, me)

• The review, undertaken at Rolling Stone’s request, presented a broad indictment of the magazine’s handling of a story that had horrified readers, unleashed widespread protests on campus and sparked a national discussion about sexual assaults on college campuses. The university’s president issued a statement accusing RS of “irresponsible journalism.”

• The way the magazine reported, edited and vetted the article is a “story of journalistic failure that was avoidable,” the report said. The criticism came two weeks after the Charlottesville PD said it had found no evidence to back the claims of the victim identified in the story only as “Jackie,” who said she was raped by seven men at a fraternity house

• Rolling Stone’s “failure encompassed reporting, editing, editorial supervision and fact-checking,” said the report, which was posted on the school’s and magazines websites. RS managing editor Will Dana posted an apology, as did the article’s author, Sabrina Rubin Erdely. (I don’t think her apology acknowledges that the rape report was fake – no one else spot this?)

• Erdely will not be punished or lose her job. Soon after the article was first published, several news media organizations began finding flaws with it, forcing RS to acknowledge on 5 Dec that there were some discrepancies with the story. The report said RS’s article may cast doubt on future accusations of repe
• The U.S. gained 126,000 jobs in March while the unemployment rate remained unchanged at 5.5%. Jason Furman, chair of the WH Council of Economic Advisers, said in a statement that the relatively weak showing was due to “a range of factors including the weather and the global economic slowdown.” (TRNS)

Lost at Sea 66 Days: Really?
• Louis Jordan, 37, claims to have survived 66 days adrift in the Atlantic Ocean. A German tanker spotted him sitting atop his 35-foot boat’s overturned hull 200 miles off the North Carolina coast on Thursday, 66 days after he disappeared after leaving on a short fishing trip from South Carolina (WaPo, Daily Mail, AP, Yahoo, me)

• By the time cameras caught up with him, Jordan, who claims his shoulder was broken when his boat overturned, wore a backpack, declined medical help and showed “no obvious sign of injury.” Despite claiming to lose 50 lbs after his canned food ran out and he was reduced to raw fish, he appeared robust and upbeat and walked without assistance

• Doubters pointed to his skin, which looked pale and unblemished, with only the slightest hint of sunburn. “We were expecting worse with blisters and severe sunburn and dehydration,” Petty Officer 3rd Class Kyle McCullum, who had the first contact with the sailor, told AP

• Survival expert Erik Kulik of the True North Wilderness Survival School said, “I would have expected him to be severely dehydrated. After that amount of time at sea, he would have been wobbly on his feet, and yet he seemed to walk perfectly. … He didn’t seem to be guarding that shoulder in the pictures I saw after the rescue. There is a lot that doesn’t add up.”

• Jordan’s two-month ordeal was made stranger by his enthusiastic tales of getting iodine poisoning, sailing through glowing phosphorescent jellyfish at night and encountering two killer whales “with such beautiful faces, they looked so friendly.” He says he caught rainwater in a bucket. It tasted pretty good – like “coconut milk,” he said

• Who are you thankful for? See the story of Cholene and Keer, the slave from South Sudan. Two-time Oscar winning filmmaker Barbara Kopple partnered with American Greetings to follow a foster mother sharing her feelings with the young man who showed her what it means to be human (TRNS)

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Victoria Jones – Editor

TRNS’ Ellen Ratner, Nicholas Salazar and Washington Desk contributed to this report

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