TIME isis

ISIS Leader’s Rape of American Woman Sparks Little Outrage

News of Kayla Mueller's rape received muted reaction from a war-weary American public

If a government is looking to go to war, a reason will always be found — if not fabricated outright. Teddy Roosevelt ginned up a separatist movement in the portion of Colombia that’s now called Panama in order to hasten construction of the canal. Just last year, Turkey’s spymaster was recorded offering to create a pretext for invading Syria, if that’s what the politicians wanted: “I’ll send four men from Syria, if that’s what it takes,” Hakan Fidan says on the tape, which prompted Turkey’s Prime Minister to ban YouTube after it was posted there. “I’ll make up a cause of war by ordering a missile attack on Turkey.”

So if any shadow of a doubt remained about the limited American appetite for a new conflict, it was erased by the profoundly muted public response to reports that the head of ISIS had repeatedly raped the U.S. hostage Kayla Mueller before her February death.

The reports, which surfaced in mid-August, are sourced to unnamed U.S. officials and to Mueller’s parents, who confirmed to the Associated Press that American officials told them in June that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had several times taken her into a bedroom at the house where she was held captive along with two Yezidi girls, who shared what they had seen after escaping. “They told us that he married her, and we all understand what that means,” her father Carl Mueller told AP. “Kayla did not marry this man,” said her mother Marsha Mueller. “He took her to his room and he abused her and she came back crying.”

The report was extraordinary on so many levels it’s almost impossible to take in, yet it prompted little action from a war-weary American people.

There was no shortage of evidence about the group’s depravity, sexual or otherwise. ISIS has boasted in its own magazine of kidnapping thousands of Yezidi women and girls as sex slaves to its fighters, promoting a “theology of rape” that the New York Times documented in appalling detail in an Aug. 13 article that quotes several who later escaped. The article’s online version even included a YouTube post of ISIS fighters teasing one another lustily as they prepare for “slave-market day.”

While the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria continues to call itself a religious movement, the evidence suggests it functions chiefly a military organization, organized on the lines of plunder and rapacity that defined conflict for most of human history, but that the modern world agreed to leave behind in consensus agreements like the Geneva Conventions.

Now that evidence takes the form of a black-bearded Iraqi man who calls himself Caliph Ibrahim, self-appointed successor to the Prophet Mohammad, forcing himself onto a young American woman who would have been 27 on Aug 14.

As a wartime atrocity, it crosses a line that would not even have occurred to ordinary mortals, or even the staff of the al-Hayat Media Center, as ISIS calls its public-relations office.

In its videos, ISIS constantly tries to top itself, straining to come up with more graphic and elaborate ways to provoke outrage. It certainly had a record to build on. Decapitating American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff brought a terrific response from the U.S., pushing President Obama toward involvement in a Syrian conflict he had avoided for years. Burning alive a caged Jordanian pilot on camera galvanized the overwhelming Sunni Hashemite Kingdom against the group. That particular spectacle provoked a torrent of vengeful rhetoric followed by a wave of air strikes (one of which may have resulted in Mueller’s February death) but also marked what, in retrospect, appears to have been the high water mark for reaction.

The snuff videos kept coming — in one, victims are executed by detonating ropes of explosives around their neck; in another, their crowded cage is lowered into a swimming pool — but the later efforts brought less reaction, not more. In July, reports emerged that al-Baghdadi had told the ISIS media office to dial things back a bit, out of concern for the sensibilities of observant Muslims and any children who might be watching (if not, as in one video, actually doing the beheading). Perhaps there had been complaints. But the staged executions had begun to recall the elaborate perils James Bond faces in the lair of the criminal mastermind, or Batman and Robin at the close of Part One of ABC’s vintage weekly series. There was a sense that ISIS was trying a little too hard.

If it country wants to go to war, it is perfectly capable of supplying accounts of atrocities, always readier to hand than accounts of weapons of mass destruction. When the blood is up, we are ready to believe what we want to believe — that Osama bin Laden picked up a gun and hid behind a woman as the SEALS stormed into his bedroom, that Iraqi soldiers made off with incubators in a Kuwait hospital, leaving premature babies to die. And now we have the Caliph as rapist, revealed neither by the ISIS media office nor by a White House news conference, but in the roundabout way of intelligence leaks.

It’s a piece of information that helps justify the May Delta Force raid on the house where the assaults reportedly occurred, and the abduction of the occupant’s wife for interrogation. It’s an atrocity, in other words, that appears to be true, even though it’s so marquee, so over the top that it also begs to be read as a provocation. Except that, right now, no one is in the mood to be provoked.

TIME Crime

What Cops Say About Policing Today

Police have faced big changes in the past year

The Philadelphia cops on the cover of this week’s TIME know as much as anyone about the topic looming in the type above them in their unmarked squad car: “What It’s Like To Be A Cop in America: One Year After Ferguson.”

The answer, in a word, would be: Harder.

“Absolutely,” says Sean Devlin, 35, the officer in the passenger seat, who has been patrolling in the 19th District of Philadelphia’s west side for the five and a half years he has been a cop. “I do know some officers who are turned off and just doing radio calls only. But it’s not in my nature. It’s my confidence in my ability and my partner, I can’t just fold up shop and sit back and let the community to be held hostage by the small percentage that’s the criminal element.”

His partner agrees. Mischel Matos, 38, who’s behind the wheel in photographer Natalie Keyssar’s cover image, says that a year ago, police did not face the scrutiny that accompanies every call for service—and not just the usual watchfulness cast in the direction of the uniform. People are recording every move you make, or at least every arrest.

“The difference comes up every time we encounter an investigation,” says Matos. “There’s always somebody through the window with a phone recording, expecting us to do something wrong.”

READ MORE: TIME’s Cover Story on What It’s Like to Be a Cop in America

It’s the new reality facing the 680,000 sworn police officers working in the U.S. today: An inversion of the traditional assumption prevailing at the scene of a reported crime, of who’s the bad guy in this picture. And if that’s a change many cops might find insulting, the cops in West Philly appeared to be taking it in stride, during the two weeks or so I spent among them, reporting the story that subscribers can read here.

Police work has never been easy in the 19th , not least because the sprawling district, which takes in some of the toughest inner city neighborhoods, is renowned for a local tradition of cussing the police. “It is, it is,” says Matos. “It’s different than any other part of the city.” Matos says that, though he was born in the Dominican Republic, he’s often taken for African-American, which takes some of the edge off encounters in the overwhelmingly black district. “Me and my partner, we have the perfect combination,” he says. “We still get tested, but not so much.”

Devlin, a military brat who grew up around the world, says he was relieved when he got to remain in the 19th after completing his rookie stint walking a footbeat in its tatty streets. “I’m not pulling over soccer moms and busting kids for keg parties,” he says. “I love the camaraderie. I think that’s one of the reasons I went into law enforcement.”

A bit more than half of the rank and file at the 19th is African-American, and what Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey recalls from the early days of integration as “salt and pepper” partners are common in the district. The racial divide at the heart of the police shootings that coalesced in the Black Lives Matter movement are not evident in the station house. There, everyone is blue first.

Black cops—especially those who grew up nearby—speak with greater feeling about the difficult history that created the neighborhoods they patrol, now riddled with narcotics and the guns that accompany that business. But opinions on how to move forward in the current, national policing crisis were pretty, well, uniform. For instance, every cop seems to want a camera of his or her own. They emphasize that body cams, which thousands of local departments are exploring, will assure a video record of an entire encounter, not just the physical scramble captured on bystanders’ cell phones that come out at the point where an arrest is being made, of someone who does not want to be arrested (and that person sometimes is more likely to resist when cameras are around, some officers say).

But cops also say that body cams will assure people behave better in the first place, because they will be told they are being recorded. “Oh, it’s going to be a hug-fest when we get the body cams!” one officer joked.

What won’t change, however, are the risks that both cops and citizens encounter in the neighborhoods that outsiders long ago learned to avoid. Devlin and Matos have not been involved in a shooting, but they came close in March, happening upon an armed robbery at a pizza shop.

“It happens that we were driving right in front of the store, and I saw the workers with hands up,” Matos said. They made a U-turn, parked across the street beyond the robber’s line of vision, and scrambled toward the shop with guns drawn. They entered as the robber was running toward the door, stuffing a pistol into his waistband. He obeyed their shouted orders to lie down on the floor, and Matos grabbed the weapon.

“It was a BB-gun at the end but it looked real,” he says. “I had the gun in my hand for a good two minutes, and I didn’t realize it was a BB gun until I tried to put it in my pocket.”

“It was a really really close call,” Matos says. “It happens. It can go wrong,. It can go bad, in less than a second.”

TIME Iran

Tehran’s Triumph of the Nil

President Barack Obama speaks about the Iran nuclear agreement August 5, 2015 at American University in Washington, DC. Obama is pushing for congress to appove the nuclear deal reached with Iran.
Pool—Getty Images President Barack Obama speaks about the Iran nuclear agreement August 5, 2015 at American University in Washington, DC. Obama is pushing for congress to appove the nuclear deal reached with Iran.

President Obama made about as sound a case as could be made on Wednesday for Congressional approval of the nuclear deal with Iran. It was a nice stroke to borrow both the venue and the logic of John F. Kennedy’s 1962 speech at American University; JFK’s argument for “a practical and obtainable peace” and putting faith in the “gradual evolution in human institutions” land right in the wheelhouse of Obama’s argument for cementing the pact, the alternative to which really is war.

But the Cold War comparison was also immensely flattering to Iran, which is, to the Soviet Union roughly what Costa Rica is to the United States. Iran, known as Persia for most of its 2,500 years, can rightly claim an extraordinary role in world history, as a seat of empire, a fount of learning and wellspring of the greatest aesthetic and intellectual achievements of Islam’s glory years. It may even have been the source of monotheism, if as some sources say Zoroaster predated Abraham.

But in the 36 years the mullahs have been in power, Iran has been reduced to the status of gadfly. It makes almost nothing except trouble. Its economy is dominated by the state, which is widely understood as corrupt, and produces a gross domestic product less than half the size of neighboring Turkey, which has almost exactly the same number of people and none of Iran’s oil and gas.

The Islamic Revolution brought education to much more of the population, but unfortunately, not nearly enough work; 150,000 college graduates leave the country every year. The country leads the world in two categories: opium addiction, and traffic fatalities, the latter a seldom-cited but excellent marker for the government’s level of competence, or its most basic regard for its citizens.

The painful truth is that Tehran’s singular achievement has been getting the goat of the world’s only superpower, albeit by accident — those students weren’t supposed to take over the U.S. Embassy, but when Ayatullah Khomeini saw the Americans’ reaction, he decided to ride the bronc. His successors are riding it still. Obama paid them a great compliment in comparing them to the godless Soviets who, as their empire crumbled, Khomeini urged in a letter to Mikhail Gorbachev to take up the study of Islam. The bomb sure didn’t save them, a lesson the mullahs would do well to consider themselves.

TIME National Security

The Life Awaiting Jonathan Pollard After His Release

The convicted spy has a wife he's never been alone with

While it’s confirmed that Jonathan Pollard will indeed get out of prison on Nov. 20, where he will go from there is not at all clear.

He would be more than welcome in Israel, the country he was convicted of spying for in 1987. But the U.S. Parole Commission, which on Tuesday announced approval of his parole after almost three decades, requires that a parolee remain not only in the United States, but in a specific area, and check in regularly with a parole officer. The terms of Pollard’s release requires him to remain in the United States for a total of five years, and his attorneys say they have already secured him accommodation in New York City.

But Pollard’s lead attorney says he’s hopeful an exception will be made in this case. “I think the parole commission will work out what kind of travel terms are permitted,” Eliot Lauer tells TIME. “We haven’t worked that through with them.”

A hero’s welcome is not all that awaits Pollard in Jerusalem. So does the woman he married in prison, and has never seen alone. Pollard’s first wife, Anne, served three years for her role in the espionage case – he proposed with a ring his Israeli handler had offered in payment then was divorced by Pollard in 1990 after her own parole was completed. Three years later Pollard secretly exchanged vows with Esther Zeitz in Butner Federal Correctional Complex in North Carolina. A Canadian, she emigrated to Israel, where they had met during an extended student trip in 1971. She has been an activist for his release, once going on a 19-day hunger strike, but, as the website Jonathanpollard.org plaintively notes, has never been allowed a conjugal visit.

“I can hardly wait,” Esther Pollard said in front of cameras in Jerusalem on Wednesday, after meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “I am counting the days, the hours, the minutes, the seconds until I can take him into my arms and we can close the door on the past behind us, and begin to heal and to rebuild our lives.” She asked for “a bit of privacy, and..to be able to begin to live like normal people, in a quiet and modest life.”

But the Jonathan Pollard sentenced to life in prison almost 30 years ago was not what some might describe as a normal person. The CIA in its “Damage Assessment” of his case outlined a personal history “replete with incidents of irresponsible behavior that point to significant emotional instability.” For example:

“Although Pollard earned a 3.5 grade point average as a Stanford undergraduate from 1972-76, former student acquaintances told investigators that he bragged about his role as a Mossad agent and, on one occasion, waved a pistol in the air and screamed that everyone was out to get him.”

His activity as a spy was not meager; as a civilian analyst employed by U.S. intelligence, prosecutors said he handed over to Israel enough documents to fill a room six-feet wide, by six-feet deep and 10-feet high. The Naval investigator who led the case wrote that Pollard also gave U.S. secrets to South Africa, and Australia, and made overtures to Pakistan.

But he grew religiously observant in prison, and became an Israeli citizen in 1995. Esther Pollard’s voice cracked as she thanked “this whole beloved, beautiful nation that’s stood with us all these years.” Pollard’s lawyer dismissed the notion that he had “transitioned” from American to Israeli during his three decades of incarceration.

“I wouldn’t say there’s been a ‘quote’ transition,” Lauer said. “He’s American. He’s a patriotic American. He violated American law, and he served 30 years for doing so. And obviously he’s very attached to Israel as well.”

Just how attached will become clear when Pollard walks free in the fall.

TIME Cuba

The Hard Part Is About to Start in U.S.-Cuban Relations

After a heady six month romance, Washington and Havana now face the daunting task of untangling obstacles put into place over the last 54 years

There’s a new flagpole outside the stately Washington D.C. building that will become the Cuban Embassy later this month—and that’s a win to be savored by President Obama, who has made outreach to enemy states a main point of his foreign policy. But if flagpoles are the symbol of the day, take proper note of the forest of 138 staffs outside the Havana building that will house the U.S. Embassy. The flagpoles were placed there nine years ago by the Cuban government, to physically impede the view of the building, a mostly empty seaside edifice Washington had decided to turn into an electronic message board aimed at speaking directly to the Cuban population.

That sophomoric level of exchange is precisely what both governments have said they aim to leave behind, over the six months since Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced the surprise rapprochement. The leaders managed to speak to rather than past each other at the hemispheric summit in Panama in April, and U.S. and Cuban officials got on well in the series of private negotiations that produced Wednesday’s announcement. Secretary of State John Kerry will go to Havana on July 22 to formally convert the U.S. Interests Section to the U.S. Embassy. And the White House says Obama is among the Americans curious about seeing the country for himself; look for him to visit before his term ends.

But away from the large gestures and sweeping statements, the reality on the ground remains stubborn. Relations between the countries were cut off in 1961, and it’s not as though things stood still for the next 54 years. Both countries were busy producing a jungle of laws, regulations and procedures intended, like that forest of flagpoles, to act as obstacles to normal contact. And jungles are not easily untangled.

Obama’s administration did what it could in the first weeks after the December announcement, using executive authority to remove penalties for Americans to travel to Cuba—as long as they did not call themselves tourists. Airline charters are now permitted from many U.S. cities, and passenger ferries from South Florida. But a thicket of impediments remain. The four biggest:

1. The embargo: As Obama made clear in his Rose Garden remarks, the chief executive is powerless to undo the overlapping legislation that bars U.S. citizens and companies from doing ordinary business with the island. Only Congress can repeal the embargo, and that’s one place where the Cuban expatriate lobby—dominated by staunchly anti-Castro Cubans who fled the island after Fidel took power in 1959—has yet to be tested. Presidential contender Sen. Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican, has made himself chief spokesman against making any change.

2. Guantanamo: Obama’s promise to close the controversial prison on Guantanamo Naval Base does not mean the U.S. has any intention of giving up the base itself, which it’s leased from Havana since 1903—on terms Washington dictated, in the Big Brother role it played in Cuban internal affairs before Castro. But Castro’s government has never cashed the rent checks. Both for reasons of sovereignty and credibility as anti-imperialist stalwart, Cuba wants the land back.

3. The Internet: The announcements by Netflix and Airbnb that they would be operating in Cuba made headlines, but not a lot of sense. The island is barely wired. Ordinary citizens pass information by thumb drives loaded up by someone lucky enough to grab a signal. The Havana government likes to control information, and so distrusts the Web. Obama has repeatedly expressed his keenness for U.S. business to help Cuba go digital, and if Havana allows that, it will signal a huge breakthrough. But something has to give, and there’s hope in Castro’s state choice of the official who will succeed him when he steps down as president in 2018: Miguel Diaz-Canel, 55, is known to be a Web enthusiast. As one former Cuban official told me with a look of wonder, “I’ve heard that the first thing he does in the morning is check his email!”

4. Castro: “Sometimes we allow ourselves to be trapped by a certain way of doing things,” Obama said in the Rose Garden on Wednesday. He was referring to Americans, but could have been talking about Cuba’s 84-year-old president. Often described as more flexible than his brother, Fidel, Raul Castro is not exactly Gumby. His efforts to shift Cuba from stagnant socialism to a market economy have been glacial and halting, more chastened by the example of “shock therapy” in the former Soviet Union than guided by the examples of Vietnam and China. Cuban officials speak of fashioning a new way forward, one that preserves the social equality that has been the government’s major accomplishment of the last five decades. But it’s far from clear that Havana has a strategy to channel the changes that ordinary people are expecting now that America is no longer an enemy.

“Of course,” Obama said, “nobody expects Cuba to be transformed overnight.” Raul Castro expects it least of all. The question is whether it will be up to him.

TIME Terrorism

Friday’s Three Terror Attacks Might Not Be Connected—and That’s Even Scarier

Tunisia hotel attack
Amine Ben Aziza—Reuters Police officers control the crowd, while surrounding a man suspected to be involved in opening fire on a beachside hotel in Sousse, Tunisia, as a woman reacts, on June 26, 2015.

A bloody assault in Tunisia, a decapitation in France and a suicide bombing in Kuwait are part of the horrifying new normal of terrorism

Three separate terror attacks on the very same morning—perhaps 37 people rifled to death on a Tunisia beach, a businessman decapitated outside a gas factory in France and a Shi’ite mosque bombed in Kuwait City—sounds like more than a coincidence. Simultaneity has been a signature of al-Qaeda since Aug. 7, 1998, when the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were hit by truck bombs within minutes of each other. And if counterterrorism analysts say the greater threat now appears to be ISIS, sure enough the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria’s spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani just this week issued a general call for attacks in an audio message:

Muslims, embark and hasten toward jihad. O mujahedeen everywhere, rush and go to make Ramadan a month of disasters for the infidels.

But while the extremist group claimed responsibility for the Kuwait bombing—a rare attack in a rich kingdom that has largely escaped terror—ISIS has so far said nothing about the other two. There’s a very real chance that the timing of the three attacks was indeed coincidental—though the reason is scarcely less alarming. The fact is there are so many terror attacks these days that three bad ones happening on the same morning falls well within the realm of statistical probabilities.

There were 13,463 terror attacks across the globe in 2014, according to the U.S. State Department. That factors out to an average of 1,122 a month, or about 37 a day, which means a terror attack roughly every 40 minutes, somewhere in the world. Half of them took place in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, where such atrocities have indeed grown so routine as to rarely qualify as international news. Syria, India and Nigeria together accounted for a bit better than a tenth of the sum. The rest were scattered around the globe, but not evenly. Of the 32,727 people killed, only 24 were Americans, or .07 percent of the total. Ten of those were in Afghanistan.

We are, moreover, in what has historically been the peak season for terror strikes, which past tallies show tend to rise in May, June and July. The holy month of Ramadan also factors in, with its associations of heightened piety. ISIS’s call to arms for Ramadan echoed similar summons from earlier insurgent groups in Iraq, where, as anyone who spent time in Baghdad over the last decade or so can attest, Fridays were seldom quiet.

If it seems like things are getting worse fast, they are. The number of attacks almost doubled from 2013 to 2014, as did the number fatalities. This had the perverse effect of making terror—which is meant to shock—actually less remarkable, as each attack dissolved into the generalized “background noise” of global news cycles.

ISIS has responded by amping up the horror. The group last year accounted for 17 percent of all terror strikes, yet nonetheless dominated the news by taking lives grotesquely and on video: Decapitating hostages, setting a Jordanian pilot alight in a cage, and in a new atrocity video released this week, killing captives by drowning them in a cage lowered into a pool; firing a rocket-propelled grenade at a car in which they are shackled; detonating explosive necklaces looped around their necks.

The group also wallows in mass killings, usually of Shi’ite Muslims and other groups the Sunni extremists of ISIS regard as apostates. Organized terror strikes by ISIS outside its theatre of military operations in Iraq and Syria remain infrequent, but when they come they do tend to be against Shi’ite targets, like the mosque in Kuwait City that ISIS dubbed “a gathering of apostates.” And as details emerge from rural France, where both suspects were taken alive, that attack may also turn out to have been inspired by, if not quite organized by ISIS. With a human head perched on a factory fence, the incident has the medieval flavor of the Islamic State.

The Tunisia attack, on a pair of beach hotels popular with European tourists also resulted in an arrest, of a man from the Tunisian city of Kairouan who had hidden a Kalashnikov in a beach umbrella. There were no immediate claims of responsibility, but both the targets and the setting— a moderate and democratic Arab nation friendly to the West—meant that attack is likeliest to hit closest to home for Americans. The dead included British, German and Belgian visitors, according to reports.

The U.S. remains at once quite safe and yet more vulnerable than it’s been in a decade, according to authorities. Officials explain the paradox by noting that the surge in the number of attacks worldwide includes few of the “spectacular” strikes such as bombings of civilian airlines, or other plots that the West in particular has hardened itself against. But officials expect more and more of the kind of attacks ISIS calls for — small-bore, lone-wolf, often impulsive attacks that may be impossible to detect in advance.

“In many ways I would say the threat streams now are higher than they’ve been since any time after Sept. 11,” Rep. Peter King, a New York Republican who serves on the House Intelligence subcommittee, tells TIME, speaking before Friday’s attacks. “ISIS has added a whole new dimension to it.”

The group’s power to inspire attacks, largely through its adept use of social media, has intelligence and counter-terrorism authorities scrambling to discern threats that could pop up anywhere a laptop or smart phone connects to the Internet. It’s a far more diffuse threat than Western countries faced from al-Qaeda, which organized specific plots through a rigid hierarchy, notes Jane Harman, formerly ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Subcommittee, now director of the Wilson Center in Washington. “A terror cell [now] is somebody on the web encountering some dangerous information,” Harman says. “That’s a terror cell.”

TIME Iran

Why the Nuclear Experts Who Sent an Open Letter to Obama Are Really Talking to Iran

Ali Khamenei
AFP/Getty Images Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, addresses country's top officials during a meeting in Tehran in which he restated his country's red lines for a nuclear deal with world powers on June 23, 2015.

In the Iran nuclear talks, your intended audience isn't always who you think it is

Much is made of how skillful the Iranians are at negotiating—and they are. But the Americans aren’t bad either, at least by the evidence of the latest news from the nuclear talks: an open letter signed by 18 former U.S. officials and experts, including five former advisers to President Obama, warning the president against accepting a deal that fails to include certain vital elements, such as inspections of Iranian military bases and ensuring that relief from sanctions comes only after Iran complies with an agreement.

It’s not the kind of thing you see much in American foreign policy—a group advisory like this, setting out red lines and reminding the nation’s leader of his obligations. You do, however, see it all the time somewhere else—in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Iran’s news media is lousy with these things: Sober, sage proclamations directed to the pinnacle of the political leadership. People talk about the opacity of Iran’s governing structure, and it’s true that between the Council of Guardians, the Assembly of Experts and the Expediency Council—just to name three of Iran’s non-elective bodies —there are more moving parts than a Rube Goldberg mousetrap. But that doesn’t mean things are opaque—just complicated. Ultimate power may rest with the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, but his own political survival requires consultations with the groups and individuals who make up his own political base, and a sound reading of the larger Iranian society that ultimately will find a way to hold him accountable. So decisions by Iran’s leaders often take a long time to gestate, and sometimes even longer to emerge.

But that process is more public than you’d think for an official theocracy. Iran has a lot of newspapers, several TV stations and its share of news sites. Most may be linked to the state, but they fairly throb—or pulse, at least—with the words of a governing structure talking to itself. Most of the chatter is in Persian, of course, but it’s all public. That means it has to be read, and the State Department has people just across the Persian Gulf, in Dubai, to follow a lot of it. State quietly pays people in Iran to translate even more, so that folks back in Foggy Bottom can read it too. (“Intelligence” is a sexy word, but the CIA itself says that up to 95 percent of what it knows it finds out by reading the papers—known in the spy game as “OSINT,” for Open Source Intelligence.)

The point, though, is not what American officials read, but what Iranian officials read: “The Public Statement on U.S. Policy Toward the Iran Nuclear Negotiations Endorsed by a Bipartisan Group of American Diplomats, Legislators and Experts,” the heading of the open letter compiled by the impressive, and impressively bi-partisan group assembled by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank. It’s the kind of discourse that speaks to Iranians, relatable and familiar. Which is fortunate, because while its authors addressed it to President Obama, the real audience was Khamenei and the rest of the government of Iran.

The June 30 deadline for a final nuclear pact is just days away, and Khamenei on June 23 delivered a speech that cast the entire enterprise into doubt—reinforced the next day with a helpful chart listing “Major Red Lines in Nuclear Negotiations,” posted on Twitter with the words “Red Lines” in red type. His timing was impeccable. The Leader pounced six days after Secretary of State John Kerry showed a bit of weakness, suggesting publicly that in a final deal Iran might not have to account for past research on a nuclear weapon.

Knowing when to exploit an opening is, of course, one mark of a formidable negotiator. But another is speaking to the other side in a language it understands—which is exactly what the U.S. side is doing with its own Open Letter.

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com