by Jonathan S. Tobin
Yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu met for seven hours with Secretary of State Kerry in Rome. Prior to the meeting, most of the speculation about it centered on whether Kerry would use the time pressuring the Israeli leader to make concessions to somehow breathe life into the peace negotiations with the Palestinians that the secretary has worked so hard to bring about. Details of the lengthy get-together are scarce. But what little we do know about it seems to indicate that most of it was spent dealing with another topic altogether: the U.S. negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program.
Just as it has been since the first moment President Obama entered office, the rhetoric from the administration on the issue remains solid. Kerry appears to have gone to great lengths to reassure the Israelis that they will not be sold down the river by a Western diplomatic process that has been restarted as a result of Iran’s charm offensive led by its new President Hassan Rouhani. Few Israelis or friends of Israel, even those most concerned about the administration’s eagerness to try another round of engagement with Tehran, could take issue with the statement made by Kerry prior to this meeting with Netanyahu, as reported by the Times of Israel:
“We will need to know that actions are being taken, which make it clear, undeniably clear, fail-safe to the world, that whatever program is pursued is indeed a peaceful program,” Kerry told reporters in a brief press statement at the start of the meeting, which was originally scheduled for seven hours.Netanyahu welcomed these assurances. But Israel’s problem is not eliciting strong rhetoric about the nuclear peril from Iran out of Kerry or President Obama. Rather, it is in a process that, even if successful rather than merely yet another stalling tactic on the part of the Iranians, seems geared to produce a result that will not do what Kerry says is his goal. Taking him at his word that he won’t let down his guard in talks with the Islamist regime is a meaningless exercise if the agreement Kerry is striving for won’t end the threat.
“No deal is better than a bad deal,” he added, echoing a statement he made earlier this month.
If Iran is allowed to go on enriching uranium and the aspects of its nuclear program that are clearly oriented toward military application, including its hardened mountainside bunkers, are not dismantled, then it will be child’s play for them to evade any promises made to the West in exchange for relaxing or dismantling the sanctions imposed on its economy.
But the U.S. is not asking for that kind of shutdown of Iran’s increasingly vast and complex network of nuclear facilities. Instead, the P5+1 group appears to be pursuing, as it has in the past, a deal that would give Iran the right to go on enriching uranium, albeit at levels that should make it unusable as fuel for a bomb. Nor is it clear that the West will insist on the export of all of Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium or the closure of even those plants whose military application is most obvious.
The problem with the negotiations going on with Iran is not the fact of diplomacy or the administration’s decision to give it yet another try after so many previous failures. Even those who are most worried about the direction of the talks do not oppose them in principle.
The problem is the impetus for the talks seem to be the very same illusions about Iran’s intentions that Kerry claims to want no part of. The belief that Rouhani represents a genuine break with Iran’s past is entirely the result of wishful thinking by the West and good public relations by the Islamist regime. But it is not only raising expectations for the talks but also creating a dynamic in which assumptions about Iran’s good intentions are being rapidly transformed into conclusions about them that are unsupported by facts. If Washington believes the lies being fed to it by Tehran it is because this administration is desperate to believe in them and to avoid fulfilling its responsibility to act against Iran.
The Israelis are not alone and as the New York Times reports, the Saudis are just as, if not more, adamant in their opposition to what appears to be a determined effort on the part of the U.S. to reach a rapprochement with Iran.
In reaching out to Iran in this fashion and showing a willingness to grant legitimacy to its nuclear program, the administration is strengthening Iran’s regional status at time when the victories of its Syrian ally are already dismaying the rest of the region.
The problem for those countries threatened by Iran is not so much whether they can trust Kerry but whether Iran can be trusted to keep any agreement it signs with the U.S. Since they know very well that it will never honor any nuclear treaty and will instead seek to go the route of North Korea at the first opportunity, there is little reason to place any faith in the P5+1 talks even if Kerry was telling Netanyahu what he believes to be the truth. The deeper the U.S. is sucked into a diplomatic dance with Iran, the more the world should worry.
Jonathan S. Tobin
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