No showdown, but Obama and Netanyahu did not bridge gaps on Iran’s nuclear program

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s get-together at the White House Monday, Sept. 30 turned into an amicable joust over their differences on how to handle Iran’s nuclear program without bridging them.  As a friendly gesture to Israel, Obama said that no options, including the military one, were off the table for preventing Iran attaining a nuclear weapon, on which he and Netanyahu were agreed. He also agreed that Iran must prove its sincerity in actions, not just words.
But they were nowhere near the “same page” as US officials have claimed.
The prime minister insisted that Iran must dismantle its military nuclear program altogether and halt the production of enriched uranium. And if Tehran continued to develop its program while conducting negotiations, sanctions must be tightened. Obama did not endorse those demands.
Whereas Israel is convinced that if Iran is not stopped right now, it will reach the breakout capacity to assembly a nuclear bomb whenever it chooses, the US president would be satisfied with an Iranian pledge to refrain from weaponizing its nuclear assets. Netanyahu noted Israel’s situation was different in that it lived under a threat of annihilation by Iran.
debkafile reported Monday before the Obama-Netanyahu meeting under the caption Netanyahu will not regain Israel’s voice in headlong US-Russian-Iranian nuclear diplomacy:

Although a face to face between prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama is obviously worthwhile for both countries, the prime minister need not expect to deflect the president from his pursuit of a nuclear deal with Tehran when they meet Monday, Sept. 30. At best, he will come away with soothing assurances that any new intelligence he presents will be seriously looked into. But he can’t hope for real substance for two reasons:

1. Obama can no longer turn away from the path he has set himself, because he is driven by the ambition to prove that international problems can be solved without military force and solely by good will, negotiations and diplomacy.

2.  After convincing Russian President Vladimir Putin that he means what he says and is not planning to repeat his “mistaken” US military involvement in the 2011 Libyan civil war, Obama removed a major obstacle in the way of a US-Russian deal on Syria’s chemical weapons.
It is now the turn for Washington, Moscow and Tehran to continue the process with a parallel consensual deal on Iran’s nuclear program.

From Tehran, the US and Russia might be seen to be preparing to impose a nuclear settlement on Iran in the same way as they did for Syrian President Bashar Assad’s chemical weapons. However, if that is what is contemplated, Obama and Putin will soon find Tehran is not Damascus, and the ayatollah in Tehran is a completely different proposition from his Syrian ally.
The wily supreme leader Ali Khamenei in fact sees his chance of turning the situation around to the Islamic Republic’s advantage. He grasps that the American and Russian leaders are in a hurry to reap the results of the Obama administration’s decision to forswear a military option for bringing Tehran round. Their headlong quest for quick results gives Tehran the leverage for extracting previously withheld concessions on its nuclear program, such as extreme flexibility on its enriched uranium production and stocks.

Netanyahu may hear Obama promising to stand by his demand that Iran stop enriching uranium and export the bulk of its stocks, or surrender it for destruction like Syria’s chemical weapons. But he will also discover that Obama and Putin are running ahead together at breakneck speed after dropping Israel by the wayside.  And the negotiations with Iran behind the scenes – and continuing in Geneva on Oct. 15 with the five Security Council powers and Germany – are more than likely to produce a compromise unacceptable to Israel.

Iran and Russia will have to make some concessions for a deal. But so too will the United States, and the uranium enrichment issue will loom large in the way of an agreement unless Washington gives way on that point. Obama has already covered much of this ground in secret contacts with Tehran.

The tempo of the negotiations, dictated by Obama and Putin, will make it easy to blur facts and the present minor concessions as major achievements.
Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov are already smoothing the way for the understandings to come with messages that fit neatly into world media headlines. Sunday, Kerry echoed President Rouhani’s of a nuclear accord achievable in months. At the same time, mindful of the Obama-Netanyahu meeting Monday, the US Secretary said in a TV interview, “A bad deal is worse than no deal,” while US Ambassador Dan Shapiro assured Israelis in a radio interview Monday morning “The US and Israel share the same goals – preventing a nuclear-armed Iran.”
Meanwhile, last month’s buzz phrase for the Syrian accord, which called for “a credible military option” to underpin the understanding, has been quietly mothballed in both the Syrian and Iranian WMD context. 

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