Chinese president Hu Jintao indicated a willingness to consider abstaining on a UN Security Council vote imposing sanctions against Iran – if the United States reciprocated by withholding its vote on sanctions against Israel over its construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. debkafile's sources report that US president Barack Obama did not reject the idea out of hand when it was raised in his hour-long telephone conversation with President Hu Thursday, April 1.
They decided to talk again about a coordinated, tit-for-tat US-Chinese sanctions deal with regard to Israel and Iran when they meet at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington on April 12-13.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was invited to the conference; Iranian leaders were not.
After the Obama-Hu phone conversation, the foreign ministry in Beijing delivered the Chinese president's consent to attend the summit. His reply was delayed to signal displeasure over US arms sales to Taiwan and Obama's White House welcome for the Dalai Lama.
It would be the first time a US president has come close to considering withholding his veto from an anti-Israel resolution at the Security Council. This implied willingness may have been partly responsible for breaking the ice in Sino-US relations.
According to our Middle East sources, White House officials dealing with Arab governments were quick to pass the word around of the evolving Obama approach. They tied it in with the US president's special envoy George Mitchell's new plan to push for a negotiated Israel-Palestinian deal on the borders of a Palestinian state to be struck within four months. Mitchell arrives in Jerusalem on April 12 – shortly before the Israeli prime minister is due to take off for Washington.
The two combined US steps add up to a further widening of the Obama administration's distance from Jerusalem, a rift which may even lead at some point to his facilitating parallel condemnatory sanctions against Israel and Iran. He is determined to force the Netanyahu government to bow to Washington's say-so on issues vital to Israel's security, namely the Iranian nuclear threat and its claim to secure borders.
Beijing's turnabout on sanctions against Iran brought Saeed Jalili, the director of Iran's National Security Council, running to Beijing Thursday to demand explanations.
The US president's openness to Beijing's proposed sanctions trade belies the outreach his aide Dan Shapiro, National Security Council Middle East Senior Director, sought to achiieve in a call to Jewish community representatives Friday. He tried denying relations were in crisis after Netanyahu's chilly welcome at the White House last month and insisted that there had been more agreement than disagreement between the two leaders.
debkafile's Washington sources report that the American-Jewish leaders addressed by Shapiro received his message with extreme skepticism.