Barak to Panetta: What is your bottom line for Iran?
Notwithstanding the hugs and personal friendship, Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak arrived in Washington Thursday April 19 to tax his host, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, with tough questions about the administration’s dialogue with Iran. They followed the lines of, “What’s going on? Is there a deal? Don’t tell me what you have settled with the Iranians, just your minimal demands, your bottom line.”
The questions reflected Israel’s concern at being kept in the dark about US-Iranian back-track negotiations and American concessions, including President Barak Obama’s willingness to yield on full transparency and international nuclear watchdog inspections at Iran’s nuclear sites.
debkafile reports: The Israeli minister had come to ask for the truth from Panetta’s own lips on the urgent instructions of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who himself had just received worried phone calls from French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron. They wanted to find out how far Washington had gone in concessions to Iran. You Israelis have more clout in Washington than us, they said. You have to try and stop the downhill decline. Concern was also registered from Berlin.
The two defense chiefs talked for more than an hour, joined for some of their conversation by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey.
According to our sources, they focused on the fresh intelligence reaching the US and the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran had begun moving military nuclear facilities to secret locations not covered in the confidential deal evolving between the Obama administration and Tehran. Our military sources say that this Iranian action indicates on the one hand that a deal with the US is within sight but, on the other, that Tehran is already taking advantage of the US concession on oversight and transparency – for concealment.
Shortly after their conversation, Panetta and Barak spoke in separate media interviews. The US Secretary said that plans for a military operation against Iran were in place and he is sure that in the event of a clash, the American military would prevail.
Barak stated that the Israeli and U.S. intelligence findings regarding the objectives of the Iranian nuclear program are aligned, the comment he makes routinely after talking to American officials. The inference is that the two governments are aligned on intelligence but not on how to translate it into action for Iran.
He added that Iran was “clearly heading towards the objective” of building a nuclear weapon.
The Pentagon bulletin reported the Panetta-Barak meeting “to discuss the close US-Israel defense relationship including Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge, Iran, Syria and the Arab Awakening’s effect on the region. Secretary Panetta was honored to be joined by Minister Barak at the Department of Defense’s Commemoration of Holocaust Remembrance Day where they each lit a candle to commemorate the memories of the victims of the Holocaust.”
The meeting took place in the middle of a crisis hitting the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department over the president’s far-reaching concessions to Iran in another dispute, the one over three Persian Gulf islands close to the strategic Strait of Hormuz which the UAE accuses Iran of grabbing.
The UAE backed by the GCC is up in arms over the visit Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad paid to Revolutionary Guards bases on Abu Musa island on April 11 at the same time as Saudi Defense Minister Prince Salman was talking to the US president at the White House.
The UAE called the Ahmadinejad’s visit a violation of its sovereignty, while the Gulf bloc saw it as a cocky signal to the region that Tehran calls the shots these days – not America.
Yet, instead of backing its Gulf allies, the State Department on April 19, issued a mild statement urging Iran “to respond positively to the UAE’s initiative to resolve the issue through direct negotiations, the International Court of Justice or another appropriate international forum.”
The Gulf governments had expected Washington to respond to Iranian threats to use Abu Musa for attacks on the Strait of Hormuz and their oil terminals. They are deeply concerned by what they regard as the extreme lengths to which the Obama administration is willing to go to appease Iran, even to the point of giving ground on America’s own standing in the region.