Look At It This Way: The Interim Agreement With Iran

— by Steve Sheffey

The interim agreement with Iran is not the final agreement and shouldn’t be judged as such; its purpose is to buy time. Increased sanctions won’t stop Iran. Military action could delay Iran and might stop Iran, but at an uncertain cost.

The diplomatic solution made possible by the interim agreement would be the best solution, but we may have no choice but to take military action. Attempting diplomacy through the interim agreement will increase the likelihood that tougher sanctions can be put in place and that military action will succeed, should either alternative become necessary.

Details after the jump.
If this interim agreement doesn’t work, the only option left will be military action. That’s why President Obama has repeatedly emphasized that the military option is on the table. It’s no coincidence that Israel and the US have scheduled a major joint military exercise at the time the interim agreement expires. Many in Israel are strongly opposed to the interim agreement, and many support it. When people tell you there are problems with the interim agreement, they’re right. Any comprehensive agreement that does not address those problems will be unacceptable.

Sanctions cannot stop Iran. We keep hearing that sanctions are working. If the goal is to damage Iran’s economy, they are working. If the goal was to force Iran to negotiate, they worked (at least so far). But if the goal was to slow or halt Iran’s nuclear program, they have failed. In 2007, Iran claimed to have 3,000 centrifuges. Now Iran has over 18,000 centrifuges. If we impose tougher sanctions it will be because either Iran cheated on the interim agreement or because the interim agreement did not lead to a final agreement, but sanctions haven’t slowed Iran’s progress and they are unlikely to stop Iran.

It’s possible that sanctions could cause Iranians to force their government to change its policies, but only if:

  • they actually have the power to do so,
  • international support for sanctions does not diminish, and
  • Iran does not obtain nuclear weapons first.

Anything is possible, but it seems unlikely that we can rely on sanctions alone. That leaves military action as the only viable option.

Can military action work? We are not talking about a ground invasion. We are not talking about a war. We are talking about heavy, limited, targeted airstrikes. Many experts say that military action would only set back Iran’s program by a year. Setting back the program by a year is good, not bad. If we have to bomb again later, we can. I know that sounds horrible. But Iran is free to stop the program. And if it doesn’t, as horrible as it sounds, is periodic bombing of Iran worse than a nuclear-armed Iran? We might not have a choice.

Wouldn’t military action incentivize Iran to acquire nuclear weapons? They are already incentivized, to the tune of 18,000 centrifuges. It’s hard to see how they could try harder than they already are.

Wouldn’t military action spark a regional war? With whom? None of the countries in the region want Iran to have nuclear weapons. Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries are terrified that Iran will get nuclear weapons. Iran’s only ally is Syria. The Arab countries might not join in air strikes, but we don’t need them–all we need from them is to look the other way, as they did when Israel bombed Syria’s nuclear reactor.

Remember also that when Israel bombed Iraq’s nuclear reactor, the harshest practical reactions were not from the Arab countries, but from Ronald Reagan, who supported a UN resolution condemning Israel, called for international supervision of Israel’s nuclear facilities, demanded that Israel pay reparations to Iraq, and cut off sales of F-16s to Israel.  Today, US-Israel intelligence and military cooperation are at the highest level in history. What happened under Reagan is unlikely to happen under President Obama.

Wouldn’t military action spark retaliation from Iran and the terrorists it supports? Perhaps. And as usual, Israel will bear the brunt of these attacks. But despite the best efforts of Edward Snowden, we still have a strong intelligence network, and so does Israel. Hezbollah may attack Israel; but they’ve been quiet for several years, and the reason probably has less to do with a newfound love for Israel than the knowledge that retaliation from Israel would be harsh and fast. In any event, if retaliation from Iran and Hezbollah is a risk that Israel is willing to take, it’s not for us in America to tell Israel that the risk is too great.

Then why not initiate military action now? Military actions frequently have unintended consequences. We might not know where all of Iran’s installations are, and once we bomb, there will be no more inspections. Even if we succeed in setting back Iran’s program, Iran will continue its program knowing that we might strike again and take precautions. Iran might succeed despite military action, and we will have no leverage at all.

That’s why the interim agreement makes sense. The only alternative to the interim agreement is military action, and right now, that’s a worse option than the interim agreement. The interim agreement might work. In an article you really need to read, both because of the clarity of its analysis and the easy-to-understand charts, Graham Allison explains that

if we compare where Iran is today with where it will be over the next six months under the agreement, we are clearly better off. And if we compare where Iran’s nuclear program will be over the next six months with where it would have advanced in the absence of an agreement, we are even better off.

So we’ve bought some time. Given that the real alternative to diplomacy is not more sanctions, but military action (that might not succeed in the short term, let alone in the long term), we’d be irresponsible not to try diplomacy first. The interim agreement gives us the breathing room we need, and even if it’s a low-percentage play, it’s a play worth making.

But what if we can’t reach a comprehensive agreement? In that case, we will have proven to the world beyond a doubt that Iran is intent on developing nuclear weapons and is not serious about negotiating.  Imposing further sanctions would be pointless–why impose sanctions if sanctions don’t force Iran to seriously negotiate? The only option at that point will be military action, either by us or Israel or both, and the more international support we can muster, the better. And if we do try one more round of sanctions first, we’ll have a much better chance of garnering international support for that too.

Will Americans support military action? Americans are tired of war. Thanks to George W. Bush’s pointless war in Iraq, not only is Iran much stronger (Bush did Iran a huge favor by wiping out its two natural enemies, Iraq and Afghanistan), but Americans are in no mood for more military action, especially after being lied to about both the reasons for the Iraq War and its probable duration and cost.

The burden will be on President Obama to explain to the American people the difference between airstrikes and boots on the ground and to explain to the American people that unlike Iraq, a nuclear-armed Iran truly is a threat to American national security. One would hope that should we reach such a point, even our friends who reflexively are against anything the President does would support him. The only alternative to military action at that point would be containing a nuclear-armed Iran.

We all wish the interim agreement were stronger. We might realize in six months that the only option all along was military action. But I think we owe it to ourselves to test diplomacy before it’s too late.

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Time for Congress to Pass Nuclear Iran Prevention Act


Brad Sherman

— by Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks, California)

Despite many positive elements, the deal reached in Geneva has a significant flaw: It allows Iran to continue to enrich uranium up to a level of 3.5%-5%, as long as it converts this from gas to uranium oxide metal.  

Six months from now, Iran will have its current stock of gaseous 3.5% enriched uranium and an additional stockpile of 3.5% enriched uranium oxide, which it could convert back to gas relatively easily.  

The United States negotiators in Geneva would have been in a much better position had Congress passed and the President signed the Nuclear Iran Prevention Act earlier this year. The more penalties and the more significant impact on Iran’s economy, the more concessions they could have secured.  

More after the jump.
Congress should act in December to pass two pieces of legislation concerning Iran:

  1. Improve the administrative effectiveness of existing sanctions. One example of this effort would be to make every company doing business with the federal government or any state or city certify that they and their affiliates conduct no business that violates any of our sanctions laws.  
  2. We need to enact a bill providing for massive new penalties on Iran. These penalties would go into effect on June 1 unless the President submits, and Congress adopts, a joint resolution that suspends the penalties because Iran has signed a reasonable permanent agreement.

Our negotiators need more leverage, not less. I look forward to working to enact that leverage next month.

Nobody’s Perfect: Iran Deal Better Than Any Realistic Alternative


President Obama’s statement on the agreement.

— by Steve Sheffey

The White House released a fact sheet detailing the specifics of the agreement with Iran, and these are the key points:

  1. In the past, the concern has been expressed that Iran will use negotiations to buy time to advance their program. Taken together, these first step measures will help prevent Iran from using the cover of negotiations to continue advancing its nuclear program as we seek to negotiate a long-term, comprehensive solution that addresses all of the international community’s concerns.
  2. Without this phased agreement, Iran could start spinning thousands of additional centrifuges. It could install and spin next-generation centrifuges that will reduce its breakout times. It could fuel and commission the Arak heavy water reactor. It could grow its stockpile of 20% enriched uranium to beyond the threshold for a bomb’s worth of uranium. Iran can do none of these things under the conditions of the first step understanding.
  3. Furthermore, without this phased approach, the international sanctions coalition would begin to fray because Iran would make the case to the world that it was serious about a diplomatic solution and we were not. We would be unable to bring partners along to do the crucial work of enforcing our sanctions. With this first step, we stop and begin to roll back Iran’s program and give Iran a sharp choice: fulfill its commitments and negotiate in good faith to a final deal, or the entire international community will respond with even more isolation and pressure.

The question is not whether Iran poses an existential threat to Israel (it does), whether Iran is a terrorist state (it is), whether a nuclear-armed Iran would spark a nuclear arms race in the Middle East (it would), whether a nuclear-armed Iran would destabilize the region and damage U.S. national security interests (it would), or whether Iran can be trusted (it cannot — that is why verification is key).

Continued after the jump.
Nor is the question whether Iran’s rhetoric is unacceptable (it is — just last week, Ayatollah Khamenei said that Israeli officials “cannot even be called humans” and called Prime Minister Netanyahu “the rabid dog of the region,” which Samantha Power condemned as “abhorrent”), or thus whether we can allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons (we cannot).

Nor it is whether a comprehensive agreement permanently ending Iran’s nuclear weapons capability in exchange for lifting of sanctions the best outcome (it is, and that is the goal the interim agreement is designed to set us up for).

The question is whether Iran could cross the nuclear threshold before a comprehensive agreement could be completed and if so, whether an interim agreement that froze Iran’s progress — thus eliminating the risk that Iran could use negotiations to stall for time — in exchange for limited, reversible sanctions relief is therefore the best realistic outcome (it appears to be).

The U.S. and Israel, each rationally evaluating the interim agreement, could come to different conclusions.

Iran is an existential threat to Israel. A nuclear-armed Iran would threaten U.S. national security interests, but Iran is not an existential threat the U.S. Also, the U.S., with more military power, has a wider window of opportunity.

Therefore, we must consider not only whether any interim agreement addresses U.S. concerns, but whether it addresses Israeli concerns — not because the U.S. is doing Israel’s bidding (we have our own compelling reasons for wanting to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, wholly apart from Iran’s threat to Israel) — but because no Israeli government could leave itself vulnerable to what it perceives as an existential threat.

An interim agreement that leaves Israel with no choice but to take military action would itself be a flawed agreement. Roey Gilad, Israel’s Consul General to the Midwest, described Israel’s definition of a good deal very clearly last week.

There is no question that the best solution is a diplomatic solution. This is not a perfect deal. But it appears better than any realistic alternatives, and that’s the measure against which the deal must be judged.

This is what I think today, upon just learning about the deal and not having digested the details. It might not be what I think tomorrow.

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Thinking Logically About Iran


It is easy for us to say, in the safety and comfort of America, that Iran’s leaders do not literally mean what they say or that Iran will behave rationally. Israel cannot take that chance.

— by Steve Sheffey

A nuclear Iran would destabilize the Middle East and threaten the U.S. and its allies, but for Israel, a nuclear Iran would be an existential threat that it cannot allow.

There is no question that Iran intends to acquire nuclear weapons. A few years ago, Yossi Klein Halevi and Michael Oren wrote an article citing French philosopher Andre Glucksmann’s observation:

… by threatening to destroy Israel and by attaining the means to do so, Iran violates the twin taboos on which the post-World War II order was built: never again Auschwitz; never again Hiroshima.

The international community now has an opportunity to uphold that order. If it fails, then Israel will have no choice but to uphold its role as refuge of the Jewish people. A Jewish state that allows itself to be threatened with nuclear weapons… will forfeit its right to speak in the name of Jewish history.

More after the jump.
Iran’s leaders have repeatedly urged the destruction of Israel. Israel’s neighbors have repeatedly attempted to destroy Israel through conventional war, terrorism, economic boycott, and delegitimization.

It is easy for us to say, in the safety and comfort of America, that Iran’s leaders do not literally mean what they say or that Iran will behave rationally. Israel cannot take that chance. Those of us who want to avoid war with Iran must understand that at some point, Israel may conclude that it has no choice but to act militarily.

Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL) wrote in a letter joined by 77 of his colleagues:

Iran is, in fact, accelerating its nuclear efforts. Tehran continues its large-scale installation of advanced, higher-speed centrifuges that will enable significantly more rapid production of weapons-grade uranium. Iran is also pursuing the plutonium path and has begun production of heavy water to feed its Arak reactor.

Israel’s ambassador to the U.N., Ron Prosor, pointed out last week that 17 different countries peacefully produce nuclear energy without uranium enrichment or plutonium production. Iran’s intentions are not peaceful. There is no peaceful reason for Iran to enrich uranium.

Former head of the Israel Defense Force Military Intelligence Directorate, Amos Yadlin, explained why Israel can’t live with a nuclear Iran and why the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (the idea that Iran will not destroy Israel knowing that Iran would in turn be destroyed–MAD) offers little comfort:

It’s not an issue of MAD. Israel is a very very small country. It is not Israeli experts who say this. It’s an Iranian ex-president, Rafsanjani, who said in 2001 that Israel is a one-bomb country and that a proud Iranian or Islamic nation can absorb two or three bombs.

But it’s much more than that. There is the issue of miscalculation, unintended escalation — the fact that unlike in the Cold War between the U.S. and Russia, we don’t have mechanisms to de-escalate. We don’t have a telephone hotline between Jerusalem and Tehran. We don’t have embassies like the U.S. embassies that helped defuse the Cuban missile crisis.

The most problematic issue has nothing to do with Israel. It’s nonproliferation in the Middle East. It’s the fact that the Saudis, the Egyptians, and the Turks will go for nuclear weapons if Iran gets them, and all I have said about miscalculations, unintended escalations, nuclear weapons to terrorists will be multiplied tenfold — it will be a nuclear nightmare.

And let me remind you that the terrorists in the planes that flew into the towers in New York City on September 11 were not Iranians. They were Saudis and Egyptians. So the idea of everyone having nuclear weapons is not a good idea.

Neither we nor Israel can allow a nuclear Iran. That is why it is so important to use a combination of economic sanctions and a credible U.S. military threat to achieve a diplomatic solution that does not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons.

Talk of appeasement is irresponsible and unhelpful. There is no indication that President Obama will agree to a deal that would allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons. Yet, the right-wing echo chamber is reverberating with talk of appeasement and Chamberlain. Steve Chapman was right when he wrote:

When you hear this sort of analysis, you have to wonder why they can’t find a cautionary tale younger than 75 years old. They act as though Chamberlain has a big fan club in Washington, urging statesmen to follow his pathetic example.

References to Munich are not a framework for thinking about negotiations with Iran or any other nation; they’re a substitute for it. The implication is that only a dupe would try to resolve such matters except with military force…

The question about any settlement is not whether it’s perfect, but whether it’s better than an air campaign that would embroil the United States in another unpredictable Middle East conflict — while spurring Iran to redouble its nuclear efforts.

It would be as foolish to insist that any deal is bound to be terrible as it would be to assume it will be wonderful. The only way to find out what is achievable is to negotiate, with our eyes open. The lesson of Munich, after all, is to avoid bad deals, not to reject good ones.

Yes, there is a risk that Iran will not live up to the terms of a negotiated agreement. Maybe an agreement will only delay, but not eliminate, the possibility of a nuclear Iran. We can’t be sure. Even the most stringent verification procedures are not foolproof. But the military option doesn’t come with guarantees either.

We won’t be certain after a military strike whether and to what extent we shut down Iran’s nuclear program. The best we can hope for with military action is a delay of 3-5 years in Iran’s nuclear program, depending on how effective the strikes are.

There is no perfect solution, negotiated or military, short of regime change or invasion and occupation of Iran — neither of which is a realistic possibility. Military action might be necessary. But military action is the option most likely to have unpredictable consequences, which is why we must exhaust all other options first and weigh those options against realistic alternatives, not perfection.

Iran is finally coming to the bargaining table because tough international sanctions have forced Iran’s hand. Now is not the time to ease up. Talk is nice, but time is short — we must keep up or increase the pressure until Iran takes actions that are, in the words of the White House, “transparent and verifiable.” At the same time, we must be careful to leave the President with the flexibility he needs to negotiate.

Every administration, Democratic and Republican, resists congressional efforts to tie its hands in the foreign policy arena. Congress is not institutionally capable of directing complex international negotiations at a micro level.

There is no question that the Administration’s goal is to prevent a nuclear Iran, and there is no question that it would prefer not to use force — which means any negotiating tactics it chooses will be designed to maximize the likelihood of an acceptable diplomatic settlement.

For that reason, Congress — and those of us who advocate for Israel in Congress — must be careful that even as we press for continued and stronger sanctions, we do not press for self-defeating measures that would rob the administration of the ability to offer an occasional carrot along the way if that path is more likely to achieve our goal.

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No Deal Is Better Than a Bad Deal

Prime Minister of Israel Binyamin Netanyahu meets United States Secretary of State John Kerry in Rome

Cartoon reprinted courtesy of Yaakov (Dry Bones) Kirschen www.DryBonesBlog.blogspot.com.

Obama Tells Tehran To Come Back With A Better Proposal

According to DEBKA Weekly:

Contrary to the upbeat hype trumpeted by the US, British and Iranian media, Washington has quietly told Tehran through their regular backdoor lines that the “proposals” put to last week’s Geneva conference were too meager for further nuclear diplomacy. “Go back and start from scratch,” was the message.

Kerry and Netanyahu Agree on Approach to Iran

Secretary of State John Kerry met today with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to discuss Iran and the Israeli-Arab peace talks, at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence in Rome, Italy.

Before their meeting, the two carried short remarks. About Iran, Kerry said:

We have said, President Obama has made it very clear he will pursue a diplomatic initiative, but with eyes wide open, aware that it will be vital for Iran to live up to the standards that other nations that have nuclear programs live up to as they prove that those programs are indeed peaceful. I have said a number of times, President Obama has said a number of times, and I reiterate today, no deal is better than a bad deal. But if this can be solved satisfactorily, diplomatically, it is clearly better for everyone.  And we are looking for an opportunity to be able to do that.

Netanyahu said:

Preventing that is a goal I share with you and President Obama. And you have said, I think wisely, that Iran must not have a nuclear weapons capability, which means that they shouldn’t have centrifuges for enrichment. They shouldn’t have a plutonium heavy water plant which is used only for nuclear weapons. They should get rid of the amassed fissile material. And they shouldn’t have underground nuclear facilities, underground for one reason — for military purposes.  

About the peace talks, Kerry said:

Thanks to the courage of the Prime Minister and the courage of President Abbas, both of whom took risks to reengage in talks, our negotiators have been meeting now — our negotiators — the facilitator, which is the United States, and the two parties are the negotiators — but the Palestinians and the Israelis have come together now some 13 times and are meeting even now as we are here. And our Special Envoy for these talks, Martin Indyk, is in Jerusalem and helping to facilitate those discussions.

Netanyahu said:

That peace is premised on mutual recognition of two states for two peoples — the Palestinian state for the Palestinian people mirrored by the Jewish state for the Jewish people. I think that’s fundamental for any peace, but equally it must be a peace that — as President Obama has said — a peace that Israel can defend by itself, for itself against any conceivable threat.

Full remarks after the jump.
United States Secretary of State John F. Kerry: Well, thank you very, very much. My great pleasure to welcome the Prime Minister of Israel Bibi Netanyahu here at Villa Taverna, which is the American Ambassador’s residence here in Rome. And I’m really grateful that our schedules were able to work out so that both of us could combine our travel and meet here in the course of today.  

And I want to begin by wishing the Prime Minister a very, very happy birthday.  

Prime Minister of Israel Binyamin Netanyahu: Thanks a lot.

Kerry: Your birthday was Monday and happy to wish you best returns.

Netanyahu: Yeah. Getting younger all the time, John. (Laughter.) Like you.

Kerry:
No, no. I think we’re earning some gray hairs together.  

This is a very important opportunity for us to be able to meet because there are a series of issues that are of huge importance to both of our countries, and our people are watching closely what is happening with respect to threats in the region and the challenges that we face. It’s particularly timely, because we are, as the Prime Minister and people in the world know, engaged in negotiations with Iran regarding Iran’s nuclear weapons program. This is something the Prime Minister and I have talked about for a long time. It is of major concern to all of us that Iran not be able to develop a nuclear weapon.

While we welcome, and we do welcome, the change of rhetoric, the change of tone, the diplomatic opening that the Iranians have offered through President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif, we have made clear and we are adamant that words are no substitute for actions. And what we will need, all of us — in order to be satisfied with respect to the United Nations sanctions, to the demands of the IAEA, as well as to our own security requirements — we will need to know that actions are being taken which make it crystal clear, undeniably clear, failsafe to the world, that whatever program is pursued is indeed a peaceful program.

We have said, President Obama has made it very clear he will pursue a diplomatic initiative, but with eyes wide open, aware that it will be vital for Iran to live up to the standards that other nations that have nuclear programs live up to as they prove that those programs are indeed peaceful. I have said a number of times, President Obama has said a number of times, and I reiterate today, no deal is better than a bad deal. But if this can be solved satisfactorily, diplomatically, it is clearly better for everyone. And we are looking for an opportunity to be able to do that.

We obviously have other issues to discuss. Thanks to the courage of the Prime Minister and the courage of President Abbas, both of whom took risks to reengage in talks, our negotiators have been meeting now — our negotiators — the facilitator, which is the United States, and the two parties are the negotiators — but the Palestinians and the Israelis have come together now some 13 times and are meeting even now as we are here. And our Special Envoy for these talks, Martin Indyk, is in Jerusalem and helping to facilitate those discussions. So obviously, we will have some time also to discuss that, Syria, Egypt, other issues of the region.

But I’m very grateful to the Prime Minister, whose schedule is obviously enormously busy, for laying aside a good amount of time today for us to be able to dig into these issues. And I look forward to having a very candid and very constructive conversation.  

Thanks very much, Mr. Prime Minister. Thank you.

Netanyahu:
Thank you, John. Thank you.  

Well, Secretary Kerry, John, it’s good to see you again. Last time in Jerusalem — or rather, in Washington, before that in Jerusalem, and now in Rome. Any time is a good time to talk about security and peace. The foremost security problem that we face, as you said, is Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons. Preventing that is a goal I share with you and President Obama. And you have said, I think wisely, that Iran must not have a nuclear weapons capability, which means that they shouldn’t have centrifuges for enrichment. They shouldn’t have a plutonium heavy water plant which is used only for nuclear weapons. They should get rid of the amassed fissile material. And they shouldn’t have underground nuclear facilities, underground for one reason — for military purposes.  

I think you’re right. I think no deal is better than a bad deal. I think a partial deal that leaves Iran with these capabilities is a bad deal. You wisely insisted there wouldn’t be a partial deal with Syria. You’re right. If Assad had said, well, I’d like to keep, I don’t know, 20 percent, 50 percent, or 80 percent of my chemical weapons capability, you would have refused, and correctly so. And I think in the case of Iran, it’s essential that it be made to live up to Security Council resolutions that demand an end to enrichment and enrichment capability and an end to plutonium heavy water capability towards fissile material for nuclear weapons.

I think we’re very close to getting that. And I agree with you that the goal is get it peacefully — peacefully. The best way to get it peacefully is to maintain the pressure on Iran. That’s what got them into these renewed negotiations in the first place. The leadership the United States and the President have shown on the issue of sanctions, I think, has been centrally important. I think it would be a tragic mistake to stop right before that goal is realized, and I look forward to discussing this issue, obviously, with you.

The second thing we’re discussing all the time — and I’m not revealing state secrets if I tell you that we — the Secretary and I talk more or less every other day about these twin goals — is to advance the peace with the Palestinians. That peace is premised on mutual recognition of two states for two peoples — the Palestinian state for the Palestinian people mirrored by the Jewish state for the Jewish people. I think that’s fundamental for any peace, but equally it must be a peace that — as President Obama has said — a peace that Israel can defend by itself, for itself against any conceivable threat. I think these are the two twin pillars of peace, and I look forward to discussing how we can advance both goals in our discussions today, and undoubtedly our discussions tomorrow as well.

Kerry: Good. Thank you, my friend.

Netanyahu: Thank you, John.

Kerry: Thank you very much.

Netanyahu: Thanks for the birthday offering.

Kerry:
No, no, no. Well, we have more to offer. (Laughter.)

Netanyahu: Thank you. Thank you very much.

Kerry: Thank you all very much. We’ll see you later.

Obama Won’t Sell Israel out in an Iran Deal


Obama’s meeting with Israeli PM Netanyahu, last week.

— by Steve Sheffey

President Obama remains committed to ensuring that Iran does not acquire nuclear weapons.

As Moshe Dayan said, “If you want to make peace, you don’t talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies.” That is why President Obama is talking to Iranian President Rouhani. The purpose of economic sanctions against Iran has been to force a diplomatic solution — talking to Iran was always the preferred end-game.

Last week, President Obama said:

Because of the extraordinary sanctions that we have been able to put in place over the last several years, the Iranians are now prepared, it appears, to negotiate. We have to test diplomacy. We have to see if, in fact, they are serious about their willingness to abide by international norms and international law and international requirements and resolutions. And we in good faith will approach them, indicating that it is our preference to resolve these issues diplomatically.

Continued after the jump.

But we enter into these negotiations very clear-eyed. They will not be easy. And anything that we do will require the highest standards of verification in order for us to provide the sort of sanctions relief that I think they are looking for.

So we will be in close consultation with Israel and our other friends and allies in the region during this process, and our hope is that we can resolve this diplomatically. But as President of the United States, I’ve said before and I will repeat that we take no options off the table, including military options, in terms of making sure that we do not have nuclear weapons in Iran that would destabilize the region and potentially threaten the United States of America.

In all of this, our unshakeable bond with the Israeli people is stronger than ever. Our commitment to Israel’s security is stronger than ever.

Obama will not sell out Israel in an Iran deal. Aaron David Miller, who has served in both Democratic and Republican administrations, believes that “either there will be a very good deal that will take care of both U.S. and Israeli concerns on the nuclear issue, or there will be no deal at all.”

The alert level on the Iranian charm offensive is incredibly high, and Obama is likely to be cautious and risk averse when it comes to the nuclear issue. Besides, there’s no issue that unites Congress like its mistrust of Iran. The administration would be hammered for showing signs of weakness without tangible and compelling concessions from Tehran. And Obama himself has staked much of his personal credibility on stopping Iran from acquiring a weapon. He has a huge incentive to make a deal — but only if it can credibly accomplish that end.

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Iranian Revolutionary Guards Deny Cyber-War Chief Assassinated


Revolutionary Guards Parade.

(DEBKA) A statement issued yesterday by the Revolutionary Guards of Iran rejected reports that the head of the country’s cyber warfare program, Mojtaba Ahmadi, was assassinated.

The Guards said they were investigating the circumstances of his death and the motives of his attacker or attackers. Ahmadi, last seen leaving his home for work Saturday, was found dead with two bullets in his heart in a wooded area near Karaz, northwest of Tehran. The local police chief said two people on a motorbike were involved in the shooting. The Guards statement does not deny that Ahmadi was attacked, only leaves its motive open.  

Netanyahu: “I Wish We Could Believe Rouhani’s Words”

Yesterday, at the United Nations General Assembly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged vigilance in protecting the world from Iran’s nuclear ambitions:

The Jewish people’s odyssey through time has taught us two things: Never give up hope. Always remain vigilant. Hope charts the future. Vigilance protects it. Today, our hope for the future is challenged by a nuclear-armed Iran that seeks our destruction.

In the wake of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s recent campaign to present a moderate face, Netanyahu reminded the world body that the new Iranian president has a long history in his country’s nuclear weapons program.

More after the jump.
Netanyahu said:

Rouhani was also Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator between 2003 and 2005. He masterminded the strategy which enabled Iran to advance its nuclear weapons program behind a smokescreen of diplomatic engagement and very soothing rhetoric. Now I know Rouhani does not sound like Ahmadinejad. But when it comes to Iran’s nuclear weapons program, the only difference between them is this: Ahmadinejad was a wolf in wolf’s clothing and Rouhani is a wolf in sheep’s clothing — a wolf who thinks he can pull the wool over the eyes of the international community. Like everyone else, I wish we could believe Rouhani’s words. But we must focus on Iran’s actions. And it’s the brazen contrast, this extraordinary contradiction between Rouhani’s words and Iran’s actions that is so startling.

B’nai B’rith International has issued the following statement in response:

B’nai B’rith would very much like to see the issue of Iran’s nuclear program resolved in a way that puts Iran out of the nuclear weapons business. At the same time, we cannot dismiss 20 years of deception by Iran.

Iran’s centrifuges continue to spin. Tehran has made several feints before while negotiating the nuclear issue, and has continued to hide and build its nuclear program. This is why we must remain skeptical of Iran’s intentions this time.

Obama: “Words Are Not Sufficient” for Iran

President Barack Obama met today with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office. The two discussed the situations in Syria, Egypt and Iran. After their meeting, Obama and Netanyahu carried short remarks.

About Syria, Obama said:

We are both pleased that there is the possibility of finally getting chemical weapons stockpiles out of Syria. But I think we both share a deep concern that we have to be able to verify and enforce what has now been agreed to at the United Nations. Chemical weapons inside of Syria obviously have threatened Syrian civilians, but over the long term also pose a threat to Israel. And we want to make sure that we get those indiscriminate, horrible weapons out of there.  

About Egypt, he said:

We continue to have concerns about what has happened in Egypt, but we also are committed to a constructive relationship with Egypt, in part because of the important role that the Camp David Accords and the Egypt-Israeli peace serve not only for the stability and security of both those countries, but also for security in the region and U.S. security.

About Iran, the President said:

It is imperative that Iran not possess a nuclear weapon. That is important for American security; it is important for Israeli security; it’s important for world security, because we do not want to trigger a nuclear arms race in the most volatile region in the world. And given the statements and actions from the Iranian regime in the past — the threats against Israel, the acts against Israel — it is absolutely clear that words are not sufficient, that we have to have actions that give the international community confidence that, in fact, they are meeting their international obligations fully, and that they are not in a position to have a nuclear weapon.

Netanyahu commented:

I believe that it’s the combination of a credible military threat and the pressure of those sanctions that has brought Iran to the negotiating table. I also believe that if diplomacy is to work, those pressures must be kept in place. And I think that they should not be lessened until there is verifiable success. And, in fact, it is Israel’s firm belief that if Iran continues to advance its nuclear program during negotiations, the sanctions should be strengthened.

Netanyahu also referred to the peace process with the Palestinian Arabs:

We know that for peace to endure, it must be based on Israel’s capacity to defend itself, by itself. And I hope that we can achieve an historic transformation that will give a better future for us and our Palestinian neighbors, and, who knows, one day with our other neighbors as well.

After the remarks, Obama was asked about the expected government shutdown at midnight, and replied:

The Senate has passed a bill that keeps the government open, does not have a lot of extraneous issues to it, that allows us then to negotiate a longer-term budget and address a range of other issues, but that ensures that we’re not shutting down the government and we’re not shutting down the economy at a time when a lot of families out there are just getting some traction and digging themselves out of the hole that we’ve had as a consequence of the financial crisis.

Full remarks after the jump.
Obama: Well, it’s a pleasure to welcome Prime Minister Netanyahu back to the Oval Office. I think I’ve had the pleasure of hosting him more often than just about any other world leader, and hopefully this will provide just some small measure of repayment for the wonderful visit that I had in Israel this spring. And I want to thank him and his family and his entire team for the tremendous hospitality that we had when we were there.

The Prime Minister and I were just talking about the fact these are hectic times, and nowhere is that more true, obviously, than in the Middle East. And so we had an opportunity for a wide-ranging discussion about a range of issues.  

I commended him for entering into good-faith negotiations with the Palestinian Authority in discussing how we can resolve what has been, obviously, one of the biggest challenges for a very long time in the region. And both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas have assigned outstanding negotiators. They have been engaging in serious conversations. And our goal continues to be to help facilitate — not dictate, but facilitate — the kinds of genuine negotiations that will result in two states living side-by-side in peace and security.

And we have a limited amount of time to achieve that goal, and I appreciate the Prime Minister’s courage in being willing to step forward on behalf of that goal.

We had an opportunity to discuss the situation in Syria. Obviously, we have a broad set of strategic concerns in Syria. We are both pleased that there is the possibility of finally getting chemical weapons stockpiles out of Syria. But I think we both share a deep concern that we have to be able to verify and enforce what has now been agreed to at the United Nations. Chemical weapons inside of Syria obviously have threatened Syrian civilians, but over the long term also pose a threat to Israel. And we want to make sure that we get those indiscriminate, horrible weapons out of there.  

And so we are consulting with the international community on these issues, and I shared with the Prime Minister our belief that we have to move with speed and dispatch in actually making sure that the agreement that was arrived at in the United Nations is followed through on.

In addition, we have the larger question of how to deal with the civil war that’s taking place in Syria. And given Israel’s significant interest in the spillover effects of activities there, we will be consulting very closely with them.

We had an opportunity to discuss Egypt, and I shared with him what I said at the United Nations just a week ago, which is that we continue to have concerns about what has happened in Egypt, but we also are committed to a constructive relationship with Egypt, in part because of the important role that the Camp David Accords and the Egypt-Israeli peace serve not only for the stability and security of both those countries, but also for security in the region and U.S. security.

So we will continue to work with the Egyptian government, although urging them and pushing them in a direction that is more inclusive and that meets the basic goals of those who originally sought for more freedom and more democracy in that country.

And we had an opportunity, obviously, to discuss Iran. Both the Prime Minister and I agree, since I came into office, that it is imperative that Iran not possess a nuclear weapon. That is important for American security; it is important for Israeli security; it’s important for world security, because we do not want to trigger a nuclear arms race in the most volatile region in the world. And given the statements and actions from the Iranian regime in the past — the threats against Israel, the acts against Israel — it is absolutely clear that words are not sufficient, that we have to have actions that give the international community confidence that, in fact, they are meeting their international obligations fully, and that they are not in a position to have a nuclear weapon.  

What I also shared with the Prime Minister is that, because of the extraordinary sanctions that we have been able to put in place over the last several years, the Iranians are now prepared, it appears, to negotiate. We have to test diplomacy. We have to see if, in fact, they are serious about their willingness to abide by international norms and international law and international requirements and resolutions. And we in good faith will approach them, indicating that it is our preference to resolve these issues diplomatically.

But we enter into these negotiations very clear-eyed. They will not be easy. And anything that we do will require the highest standards of verification in order for us to provide the sort of sanctions relief that I think they are looking for.

So we will be in close consultation with Israel and our other friends and allies in the region during this process, and our hope is that we can resolve this diplomatically. But as President of the United States, I’ve said before and I will repeat that we take no options off the table, including military options, in terms of making sure that we do not have nuclear weapons in Iran that would destabilize the region and potentially threaten the United States of America.

In all of this, our unshakeable bond with the Israeli people is stronger than ever. Our commitment to Israel’s security is stronger than ever. And we are very much looking forward to continuing to work with our friends in Israel to make sure that the U.S. security interests are met, Israel’s security interests are met, but hopefully that we can also bring about greater peace and greater stability in a region that has been racked with violence and tensions for far too long.  

And I appreciate the Prime Minister’s views. He is always candid, and we’re always able to have not only a good working relationship at the prime ministerial level, but also because of the outstanding work that our staffs do.

So, Mr. Prime Minister, welcome.  

Netanyahu: Mr. President, thank you for welcoming me and my delegation on what I know is a very busy day for you in Washington today.  

There are many things on your plate, but I know that you know and the American people know that there is no better ally — more reliable, more stable, more democratic — other than Israel in a very raw, dangerous place. So I welcome the opportunity that we’re having to discuss how we work closely together to address the enormous challenges that face both of us. And I think of those, the most important challenge is preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

I appreciate deeply the fact that you have made clear that you remain committed to this goal. I also appreciate the statement you made that Iran’s conciliatory words have to be matched by real actions — transparent, verifiable, meaningful actions.  

Iran is committed to Israel’s destruction. So for Israel, the ultimate test of a future agreement with Iran is whether or not Iran dismantles its military nuclear program. We have a saying in Hebrew, we call it mivchan hatotza’a (“the test of outcome”) — you would say it in English, what’s the bottom line? And the bottom line, again, is that Iran fully dismantles its military nuclear program.  

In this regard, I want to express my appreciation to you for the enormous work that’s been done to have a sanctions regime in place to thwart Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. I believe that it’s the combination of a credible military threat and the pressure of those sanctions that has brought Iran to the negotiating table.

I also believe that if diplomacy is to work, those pressures must be kept in place. And I think that they should not be lessened until there is verifiable success. And, in fact, it is Israel’s firm belief that if Iran continues to advance its nuclear program during negotiations, the sanctions should be strengthened. It’s the combination, I believe, that has guided your policy and our policy so far, that is good credible military threat and strong sanctions I think is still the only formula that can get a peaceful resolution of this problem.

Mr. President, we discussed many of these, but I want to use this opportunity to thank you, Secretary of State Kerry and others in your administration for helping to advance peace between Israel and the Palestinians. I remain committed to that peace. And I hope that our efforts — our common efforts — would lead to a secure and lasting peace.  

We know that for peace to endure, it must be based on Israel’s capacity to defend itself, by itself. And I hope that we can achieve an historic transformation that will give a better future for us and our Palestinian neighbors, and, who knows, one day with our other neighbors as well.

So I want to thank you again for your hospitality, for your efforts, and it’s very, very good to see you again.

Q: Mr. President, are you resigned to a government shutdown at this point? And given how close we are to the midnight deadline, have you had any conversations with Speaker Boehner over the past few days?

Obama: I am not at all resigned. And I’ll have a chance to obviously speak more to this. I’m going to have a Cabinet meeting this afternoon and may have some further thoughts for the press as the day goes on. But the bottom line is that the Senate has passed a bill that keeps the government open, does not have a lot of extraneous issues to it, that allows us then to negotiate a longer-term budget and address a range of other issues, but that ensures that we’re not shutting down the government and we’re not shutting down the economy at a time when a lot of families out there are just getting some traction and digging themselves out of the hole that we’ve had as a consequence of the financial crisis.

I’ve said before, Congress has two responsibilities: Pass a budget, pay the bills. And I am not only open to but eager to have negotiations around a long-term budget that makes sure that we’re investing in middle-class families, helping the economy grow, giving people who are working hard a leg up, and greater security and stability and deals with some of our long-term challenges in terms of debt and deficits.

But the only way to do that is for everybody to sit down in good faith without threatening to harm women and veterans and children with a government shutdown, and certainly we can’t have any kind of meaningful negotiations under the cloud of potential default, the first in U.S. history.

There’s not a world leader, if you took a poll, who would say that it would be responsible or consistent with America’s leadership in the world for us not to pay our bills. We are the foundation of the world economy and the world financial system. And our currency is the reserve currency of the world. We don’t mess with that. And we certainly don’t allow domestic policy differences on issues that are unrelated to the budget to endanger not only our economy but the world economy. So I suspect that I will speaking to the leaders today, tomorrow, and the next day.

But there’s a pretty straightforward solution to this. If you set aside the short-term politics and you look at the long term here, what it simply requires is everybody to act responsibly and do what’s right for the American people.  

All right?  Thank you very much, everybody.  Thank you.  

Republicans Seek to Fight Against Obama in Syria


Republicans who had been criticizing President Obama for refusing to arm the Syrian opposition, suddenly became critics of any intervention whatsoever when the president proposed the limited strike.

— by Steve Sheffey

Republicans proved during the Syria debate that they will oppose President Obama simply for the sake of opposing him, all for partisan gain. Politicians used to at least pay lip service to a bipartisan foreign policy, but no longer.

Former Congressman Barney Frank summarized the situation accurately:

Many Republicans who had been criticizing President Obama for refusing to arm the Syrian opposition, and some of whom advocated American combat aircraft establishing a “no fly” zone against the Syrian air force, suddenly became critics of any intervention whatsoever when the president proposed the limited strike to penalize President Bashar al-Assad for his use of chemical weapons. Democracy does not require people who oppose a president’s military actions to stay silent in the interest of bipartisanship, but what we have here is the exact opposite: partisan opponents of the president completely reversing their position once the president moves in the direction they had previously attacked him for not taking.

Continued after the jump.

The argument that they are now critical of his doing anything because he is not doing more is not a serious one. There is a significant body of Republicans prepared to attack Obama for any decision he makes, even if that requires them to reverse positions they previously held.


Courtesy of Yaakov “Dry Bones” Kirschen.

President Obama outlined his foreign policy in his U.N. speech. The bottom line on Syria is that we have achieved all of our objectives without firing a single shot. On Friday night, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to secure and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile. That was a major victory for the U.S.

The U.S. position on Iran is also clear: Iran cannot be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons. A diplomatic solution is better than a military solution, but all options must remain on the table. Iran is willing to talk only because economic sanctions are taking their toll; it would be foolish to ease up, until and unless Iran backs up its conciliatory words with actions.

Israel and many others remain skeptical about Iran’s intentions. A senior Administration official said on Friday that:

The Israeli government has every right to be skeptical of the Iranian government, given the statements that have come out of Iran in the past — extraordinarily inflammatory statements about Israel, threats towards Israel’s existence — given that history, I think it is entirely understandable and appropriate for the Israeli government to be deeply skeptical…

We’ve made clear that words need to be followed by actions, and ultimately it’s going to be the actions of the Iranian government through this diplomatic process that is going to make the difference. And so when we consider things like potential sanctions relief, we’re going to need to see a meaningful agreement and meaningful actions by the Iranian government before the pressure that’s in place can be relieved… The bottom line for us is that Iran cannot be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon.

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