US President Barack Obama addressed the Iranian nuclear and Palestinian issues in terms sympathetic to the Israeli case at the Saban annual forum in Washington Saturday, Dec. 7.
On the final accord with Iran, he spoke of constraints for making sure Iran was prevented from attaining a nuclear weapon.
He then called on the Palestinians to accept that the current round of talks with Israel would produce, at best, a framework accord, which could be achieved in months, without covering in full all the details of their dispute. It would also omit the Gaza Strip and a provide for a transition period before a final settlement.
The negotiations now in progress would therefore only cover the West Bank, for the time being, the US president said. He expressed the hope that Gaza’s Hamas rulers would be inspired by the success of the Palestinian-Israeli deal and want to emulate it.
This was the first time Obama had recognized that the current round of Palestinian-Israeli talks initiated by US Secretary of State John Kerry would not be able to reach a final settlement during his presidency – only, at best, interim agreements on some of the issues.
On the nuclear question, he said Iran would have to exercise “extraordinary restraints.” For a peaceful nuclear program, he said, “they don’t need an underground enrichment plant in Fordo, certainly not a heavy water plant in Arak or centrifuges.”
He did not refer directly to the military dimensions of that program, but insisted that no ideal option exists. “If it were possible to halt uranium enrichment and break up Iran’s nuclear capacity by any other means we would have taken it,” he said. We therefore decided to test Iran by diplomacy.
In contrast to the Palestinian question, Obama was clear that a final and comprehensive accord must be reached in six months time to make it impossible for Iran to attain a nuclear bomb. He promised that the international community would be party to every detail of this deal and Israel would be consulted.
In Obama’s view the final accord must contain four elements:
1. The shutdown of the underground nuclear enrichment plant at Fordo;
2. Give up the heavy water reactor under construction at Arak;
3. Stop manufacturing advanced centrifuges. This was a reference to the extra-fast IR2 machines, without which the Iranians would find it difficult to enrich uranium at high speed to weapon grade.
4. Permission for low-grade uranium enrichment up to the 3.5 percent level.
debkafile’s sources comment that in his answers to the questions put to him by Haim Saban, the US President made an effort to accommodate some of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s objections and views on the two most contentious issues weighing on relations between Washington and Jerusalem: Iran and the Palestinians.
This cut the ground from under Netanyahu’s leading political opponents, such as former prime minister Ehud Olmert, ex-Shin Bet director Yuval Diskin and others, who contest his policies as needlessly antagonizing the United States.
At the same time, neither Tehran nor the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is likely to accept the propositions Obama presented Saturday.
Iran, in particular, will certainly fume over his comment that diplomacy will not only test Iran on its nuclear intentions but may also be used to “ultimately defeat some of its other agendas in the Middle East” to which the US is opposed. He cited terrorism, subversion and threats against “our friends and allies.”
Tehran may even walk away from the diplomatic process for a time in protest.
Obama lowered expectations from the Palestinian-Israeli track because he had seen John Kerry’s account of Mahmoud Abbas’s rejection of the new US security plan when they met in Ramallah Thursday, Dec. 5.
In this plan, Obama said that US Gen. John Allen Gen. Allen had outlined security arrangements for the two sides with which he believed “Israel should be able to feel comfortable in the transition period leading up to a final settlement.” He admitted he was not sure it would be acceptable to the Palestinians.