The Obama administration is very close to sealing the parameters of a deal with Iran.
Last Friday, US Secretary of State Kerry, meeting with Iranian Secretary of State Zarif on the sidelines of a conference in Munich, encouraged Iran to move forward on finalizing those parameters by March 24 (the deadline a group of Democratic Congresspersons had given Obama before considering sanctions). Following this, details would be ironed out by the June 30th final deadline.
Both Zarif and Kerry have agreed that there will be no more extensions of the final deadline. After Kerry pressed him on the issue, Zarif concurred: “I do not believe another extension is in the interest of anybody. We’re reaching the point where it is quite possible to make an agreement …”
“This is the opportunity to do it, and we need to seize this opportunity,” concluded Zarif. Of course, this was after Zarif had warned that a failure to clinch a deal would undermine President Hassan Rouhani.
The parameters of the deal are horrendous.
The Washington Post – hardly a right wing publication – ran an editorial on this issue last week. It is instructive to consider its major points (emphasis added):
“First, a process that began with the goal of eliminating Iran’s potential to produce nuclear weapons has evolved into a plan to tolerate and temporarily restrict that capability.
“Second, in the course of the negotiations, the Obama administration has declined to counter increasingly aggressive efforts by Iran to extend its influence across the Middle East and seems ready to concede Tehran a place as a regional power at the expense of Israel and other U.S. allies.
“Finally, the Obama administration is signaling that it will seek to implement any deal it strikes with Iran — including the suspension of sanctions that were originally imposed by Congress — without a vote by either chamber. Instead, an accord that would have far-reaching implications for nuclear proliferation and U.S. national security would be imposed unilaterally by a president with less than two years left in his term…
“Where it once aimed to eliminate Iran’s ability to enrich uranium, the administration now appears ready to accept an infrastructure of thousands of Iranian centrifuges. It says its goal is to limit and monitor that industrial base so that Iran could not produce the material for a warhead in less than a year. As several senators pointed out last month during a hearing of the Foreign Relations Committee, the prospective deal would leave Iran as a nuclear-threshold state while theoretically giving the world time to respond if Tehran chose to build a weapon. Even these limited restrictions would remain in force for only a specified number of years, after which Iran would be free to expand its production of potential bomb materials…
“Former secretary of state George P. Shultz cited Iran’s regional aggression in pronouncing himself ‘very uneasy’ about the ongoing negotiations. ‘They’ve already outmaneuvered us, in my opinion,’ he told the Armed Services Committee.”
Please, see the entire editorial here:
The current situation has spawned a host of commentaries, many very grim. Observed Michael Ledeen, for example, “Obama entered the White House with the intention of forging an alliance with our most dangerous enemy in the Middle East. That fact has to be the baseline of any serious analysis of our government’s policies.”
The unease voiced by Shultz, above, regarding Iran’s expansionism and promotion of terrorism, is echoed in many quarters. What complicates the situation enormously is the Shia Iran vs. Sunni ISIS situation – with Obama seeking Iran’s “help” in countering Sunni jihadists. His desire to weaken ISIS has moved him even further into forging ties with Iran. Action against Sunni jihadists actually strengthens Iran’s position.
Is this a fait accompli? Close, but no, not yet. Although it may be about five minutes to midnight, there is still time to counter what seems to be coming down the road. Were sanctions to kick in again, it would weaken Iran significantly and might shift the dynamic.
Yesterday, Prime Minister Netanyahu said (emphasis added):
“The major powers and Iran are galloping toward an agreement that will enable Iran to arm itself with nuclear weapons, which will endanger the existence of the State of Israel.
“We will continue to take action and to lead the international effort against Iran’s arming itself with nuclear weapons. We will do everything and will take any action to foil this bad and dangerous agreement that will place a heavy cloud over the future of the State of Israel and its security.”
Pretty clear and direct.
There is no one reading this who doesn’t know that Netanyahu has been invited by Speaker of the House John Boehner to address Congress on the issue of the dangers of Iran; that speech is scheduled for March 3.
And here we come to the heart of the matter.
Netanyahu has devoted himself for years to the issue of the dangers of Iran: There is likely no world leader better able to address the issues; at this juncture, what he has to say has deep import. And there is no more significant venue in which he might speak than the US Congress – for it is the members of Congress who will make hard decisions regarding sanctions.
As Boehner has said: “…there’s nobody in the world who can talk about the threat of radical terrorism, nobody can talk about the threat that the Iranians pose, not just to the Middle East and to Israel, our longest ally, but to the entire world, but Bibi Netanyahu.”
Should have been a simple matter – with Congress prepared to hear what he has to say.
But, of course, it wasn’t a simple matter. For Obama is determined to get his agreement with Iran, and is not content to allow an upstart Israeli (an Israeli!) throw a monkey wrench in the works. He does not take interference with his plans lightly.
Thus did the charge go out that Netanyahu was meddling in US politics: It was now a political issue, rather than a matter of diplomacy and security.
First came the lament that protocol was ignored, as the president should have been told about the invitation and was not. But Boehner countered this, saying that he had informed the White House.
Then came the attempt to stonewall Netanyahu: Obama has said he will not see him when he’s in the US. The reason given – that it’s too close to Israeli elections – feels bogus to me in light of how similar situations have been handled. Not only that, Kerry has said he will not be present, and now Biden has discovered that he will be unable to hear Netanyahu speak, as he will “be out of the country.” Some numbers of Democratic members of Congress will decline to be present for the talk, as well – undoubtedly pressured by their president.
All of this is an outrage. A rudeness to a head of state deeply concerned about the security of his state, and the world. People have forgotten that the issue is security, however, since it has all been so politicized.
And here in Israel, in my opinion, the situation is worse. For I expect nothing – less than nothing – from Obama. But here we are talking about our own people.
We are facing a severe security situation – not only with Iran threatening us directly, but with Iran arming and inciting Hezbollah and Hamas. Our prime minister is seeking to address the matter of Iran with seriousness. But we are in the middle of an election campaign, and the opposition on the left sees this as an opportunity to make points. Thus, rather than supporting Netanyahu, rallying around him at this time, the issue has been improperly politicized.
Fingers are being pointed at Netanyahu: See! Goes the cry. He makes trouble with the president of the US by pushing himself into the Congress. We need the US, and this is a bad thing he is doing.
Anyone interested in a reality check would be reminded very quickly that the prime minister was invited, he did not push his way in.
But we are not done yet. “Bugie” Herzog, co-chair with Tzipi Livni of the so-called Zionist Camp (formerly the Labor Party), was in Munich for a security conference, as was Vice President Biden. In the hallway, they stopped to speak to each other. This interval is being billed as an “informal meeting.”
Whether it was really much of a meeting – a meeting that Biden should not have permitted if there is a policy of not meeting with candidates before an election – or a very brief greeting and no more, I cannot say.
But the Zionist Camp is parlaying it into a real meeting. Wrote Shelly Yachimovich that night:
”His meeting this evening with Vice President Biden in Munich, after Biden announced that he would not attend Bibi’s speech to Congress, is proof that the only bridge to harmonious and proper communication in the international arena is Herzog as prime minister.”
This is a low blow that is nothing short of disgusting. The main issue here is not who can be Obama’s best friend, but who can best guard Israel’s security. It happens at present that the two are mutually exclusive – that is, the leader most eager to keep Obama happy is least likely to protect Israel. Bugie Herzog would give away our security and our land. (Heaven forbid that he should have the opportunity to do so.)
But still this is not the end of the story. At that security conference in Munich, Herzog also said that Netanyahu should cancel the March 3 speech “for the sake of Israel’s security…My talks with leaders from Europe and the U.S. indicated they were furious that Netanyahu had diverted the debate on a nuclear Iran for political purposes and made it into a confrontation with Obama.”
First of all, Bibi didn’t “make” the confrontation, Obama did.
Second, Herzog is conflating security with being on good terms with Obama – when in fact, as I have pointed out above, these are two different issues. He makes it sound as if he, the one who would have the better relations with Obama, would thus automatically guard Israel’s security better. Nonsense, balderdash, and worse.
And last, there is an understanding here in Israel that criticism of the government is kept in house – inside Israel – and not voiced outside On the outside, the government is supported. What Herzog did, was done for political purposes. And it was vile and obscene: to weaken Israel’s position internationally for his own electoral gain.
Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said Herzog “crossed all the lines.” MK Miri Regev (Likud) said that “[Herzog] is being exploited by the international community. He’s cooperating with them against Israel and putting the security of the state at risk.”
I fully agree, and I grieve that the situation has been reduced to this.
I want to believe that the Israeli electorate can see through Herzog. But I fear that some percent (what percent?) may be comforted by the notion that it would be easier to have a prime minister who is friends with Obama. I tremble at this thought, and at the sort of self-serving propaganda that promotes it.
There are all sorts of suggestions flying about, regarding ways that Netanyahu might mitigate some of the political tensions when he goes to Washington. My best understanding is that he still intends to speak. I salute him for his courage and pray that he will. He cannot back down now.