The Obama administration and Binyamin Netanyahu will continue to bicker in the coming weeks in the diplomatic void created by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei making the world wait for him to make up his mind about whether to thumbs up or thumbs down on the nuclear accord in negotiation with the US and five world powers.
Washington may be waiting, but Tehran is pressing ahead with its nuclear and regional plans.
In some ways, the Israeli prime minister’s controversial speech to the US Congress Tuesday, March 3, spoke for an entire region, particularly the Sunni-ruled Gulf states, which are profoundly perturbed by Iran’s proximity to a nuclear weapon and its appetite for Shiite conquest.
Following on the Israeli prime minister’s warning, US Secretary of State John Kerry was forced to hurry over to Riyadh Wednesday, March 4, for a vain attempt to put the Gulf Cooperation Council leaders’ minds at rest.
That must have been hard, after President Barack Obama’s Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told PBS’s Charlie Rose Monday, March 2, that Iran has the capability to make a nuclear weapon “right now” but at this point Khamenei has ”not made a decision to obtain a nuclear weapon.”
He went on to say, “It’s a political decision for them. Not that they don’t have the technical wherewithal, the technical competence, because they do.”
The US quietly drops March deadline
Kerry flew out from the Swiss lakeside town of Montreux after joining Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to report “some progress” in their ten hours of negotiations for a nuclear framework deal.
Kerry told reporters: “There are still significant gaps and important choices to be made,” when the talks resume on March 15.
DEBKA Weekly’s sources disclose that this diplomatic-speak covered the closing of at least one such gap in the Montreux sessions, by who else but the United States?
On Feb. 21, Kerry announced very firmly that “President Obama does not want to extend the talks again beyond their scheduled end – March 24 for the framework agreement.”
If Khamenei delivers in time, the Obama administration will be able to trumpet a historic breakthrough towards a nuclear accommodation with Tehran. But if he doesn’t, the talks must be allowed to drag on without pause, which means that the March deadline must quietly fall by the wayside.
This is exactly what the United States privately agreed to in Montreux this week.
The noisy furor surrounding the Netanyahu speech served as a smokescreen for this US concession and a distraction from the fact that Khamenei was holding the Obama administration and the world in suspense about his intentions.
Obama redirects fire from Khameini to Netanyahu
Turning the fire from Khamenei to Netanyahu was the gimmick employed.
Netanyahu was warned by administration spokesmen not to spill confidential details given Israeli officials in private briefings and “betray their trust.” However, those warnings were not actuated by fears of Iran stalking out of the talks in protest, but laid the groundwork for President Obama to say later that Netanyahu’s speech to Congress contained “nothing new.”
This contention was belied by the scores of assorted headlines the world media ran on their front pages in the days following the speech.
Fixing media attention on the Israeli prime minister was also a useful distraction from the harsh words Kerry heard in Riyadh Thursday, March 5, from Saudi King Salman.
Those words not only echoed Netanyahu’s alarm over Iran’s intentions, but were a lot blunter in their recriminations against President Obama for underwriting Tehran’s aggressive designs.
The Saudi king and the Gulf Cooperation Council foreign ministers Kerry met must have been moved by a measure of frustration.
Before he flew to Riyadh, Secretary Kerry declared “Political and external factors would not distract from the talks.” This warned his audience that Obama would not budge an inch from the diplomatic ground so far covered towards his nuclear deal with Iran.
Netanyahu once offered to accept a curtailed Iranian nuclear program
As for Kerry’s assertion that no one had presented “a more viable, lasting alternative for how you actually prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon” – that too is easily refuted.
Going back to the first three years of the Obama presidency – 2009-2012 – Kerry must know, and his predecessor as secretary of state Hillary Clinton – who is strangely silent on the entire nuclear issue – must recall the hours spent with the Israeli defense minister at the time Ehud Barak and Military Intelligence director Amos Yadlin, turning over various Israeli proposals for concessions to enable Iran to continue its nuclear program.
Those proposals centered specifically on restricting the number of centrifuges and enriched uranium stocks Iran would be allowed to keep. They were made in an effort to bridge the differences between Obama and Netanyahu on this issue.
In other words, three years ago, Prime Minister Netanyahu was prepared to let Iran keep its nuclear program in severely curtailed form.
When the discussions between the US and Israel reached an impasse, the Netanyahu government proposed a military strike for crippling the rapidly advancing Iranian military nuclear program. That idea was firmly vetoed by the US president.
At no time did the Netanyahu government demand Iran’s capitulation, as Kerry remarked in Montreux: “Simply demanding Iran’s capitulation is no way to get a nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic,” he said.
An informed voice skeptical of Tehran change
Obama and his officials are clearly throwing out absurd assertions and unfounded allegations as a tactic to deflect broad Middle East criticism of their actions and buy time until the Iranian supreme leader comes around to a decision.
The bickering between Washington and Jerusalem can therefore be expected to continue in the days and weeks ahead.
But what if Khamenei does approve the framework deal negotiated by Kerry and Zarif as the basis for a comprehensive nuclear accord?
Michael Hayden, former CIA director, offered a prognosis as recently as Tuesday, March 3.
“And what of the talk of an overall American-Iranian rapprochement once the nuclear issue is behind us? The president himself has spoken of a better-behaving Iran as a ‘very successful regional power.’ Few even suggest ‘equilibrium’ between Tehran and the Sunni states of the region.
“The president’s big plan is that Iran would re-emerge as America’s natural partner in the region.” However, Hayden went on to say: “I would be skeptical too that after an agreement is reached, Iran won’t be the duplicitous, autocratic, terrorist-backing, Hizballah-supporting, Hamas-funding, region-destabilizing, hegemony-seeking theocracy that it is today.”