Commentary Magazine


Topic: Iranian nuclear program

Israel Can’t Take Kerry at His Word on Iran

Yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu met for seven hours with Secretary of State Kerry in Rome. Prior to the meeting, most of the speculation about it centered on whether Kerry would use the time pressuring the Israeli leader to make concessions to somehow breathe life into the peace negotiations with the Palestinians that the secretary has worked so hard to bring about. Details of the lengthy get-together are scarce. But what little we do know about it seems to indicate that most of it was spent dealing with another topic altogether: the U.S. negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program.

Just as it has been since the first moment President Obama entered office, the rhetoric from the administration on the issue remains solid. Kerry appears to have gone to great lengths to reassure the Israelis that they will not be sold down the river by a Western diplomatic process that has been restarted as a result of Iran’s charm offensive led by its new President Hassan Rouhani. Few Israelis or friends of Israel, even those most concerned about the administration’s eagerness to try another round of engagement with Tehran, could take issue with the statement made by Kerry prior to this meeting with Netanyahu, as reported by the Times of Israel:

“We will need to know that actions are being taken, which make it clear, undeniably clear, fail-safe to the world, that whatever program is pursued is indeed a peaceful program,” Kerry told reporters in a brief press statement at the start of the meeting, which was originally scheduled for seven hours.

“No deal is better than a bad deal,” he added, echoing a statement he made earlier this month.

Netanyahu welcomed these assurances. But Israel’s problem is not eliciting strong rhetoric about the nuclear peril from Iran out of Kerry or President Obama. Rather, it is in a process that, even if successful rather than merely yet another stalling tactic on the part of the Iranians, seems geared to produce a result that will not do what Kerry says is his goal. Taking him at his word that he won’t let down his guard in talks with the Islamist regime is a meaningless exercise if the agreement Kerry is striving for won’t end the threat.

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Yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu met for seven hours with Secretary of State Kerry in Rome. Prior to the meeting, most of the speculation about it centered on whether Kerry would use the time pressuring the Israeli leader to make concessions to somehow breathe life into the peace negotiations with the Palestinians that the secretary has worked so hard to bring about. Details of the lengthy get-together are scarce. But what little we do know about it seems to indicate that most of it was spent dealing with another topic altogether: the U.S. negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program.

Just as it has been since the first moment President Obama entered office, the rhetoric from the administration on the issue remains solid. Kerry appears to have gone to great lengths to reassure the Israelis that they will not be sold down the river by a Western diplomatic process that has been restarted as a result of Iran’s charm offensive led by its new President Hassan Rouhani. Few Israelis or friends of Israel, even those most concerned about the administration’s eagerness to try another round of engagement with Tehran, could take issue with the statement made by Kerry prior to this meeting with Netanyahu, as reported by the Times of Israel:

“We will need to know that actions are being taken, which make it clear, undeniably clear, fail-safe to the world, that whatever program is pursued is indeed a peaceful program,” Kerry told reporters in a brief press statement at the start of the meeting, which was originally scheduled for seven hours.

“No deal is better than a bad deal,” he added, echoing a statement he made earlier this month.

Netanyahu welcomed these assurances. But Israel’s problem is not eliciting strong rhetoric about the nuclear peril from Iran out of Kerry or President Obama. Rather, it is in a process that, even if successful rather than merely yet another stalling tactic on the part of the Iranians, seems geared to produce a result that will not do what Kerry says is his goal. Taking him at his word that he won’t let down his guard in talks with the Islamist regime is a meaningless exercise if the agreement Kerry is striving for won’t end the threat.

If Iran is allowed to go on enriching uranium and the aspects of its nuclear program that are clearly oriented toward military application, including its hardened mountainside bunkers, are not dismantled, then it will be child’s play for them to evade any promises made to the West in exchange for relaxing or dismantling the sanctions imposed on its economy.

But the U.S. is not asking for that kind of shutdown of Iran’s increasingly vast and complex network of nuclear facilities. Instead, the P5+1 group appears to be pursuing, as it has in the past, a deal that would give Iran the right to go on enriching uranium, albeit at levels that should make it unusable as fuel for a bomb. Nor is it clear that the West will insist on the export of all of Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium or the closure of even those plants whose military application is most obvious.

The problem with the negotiations going on with Iran is not the fact of diplomacy or the administration’s decision to give it yet another try after so many previous failures. Even those who are most worried about the direction of the talks do not oppose them in principle.

The problem is the impetus for the talks seem to be the very same illusions about Iran’s intentions that Kerry claims to want no part of. The belief that Rouhani represents a genuine break with Iran’s past is entirely the result of wishful thinking by the West and good public relations by the Islamist regime. But it is not only raising expectations for the talks but also creating a dynamic in which assumptions about Iran’s good intentions are being rapidly transformed into conclusions about them that are unsupported by facts. If Washington believes the lies being fed to it by Tehran it is because this administration is desperate to believe in them and to avoid fulfilling its responsibility to act against Iran.

The Israelis are not alone and as the New York Times reports, the Saudis are just as, if not more, adamant in their opposition to what appears to be a determined effort on the part of the U.S. to reach a rapprochement with Iran.

In reaching out to Iran in this fashion and showing a willingness to grant legitimacy to its nuclear program, the administration is strengthening Iran’s regional status at time when the victories of its Syrian ally are already dismaying the rest of the region.

The problem for those countries threatened by Iran is not so much whether they can trust Kerry but whether Iran can be trusted to keep any agreement it signs with the U.S. Since they know very well that it will never honor any nuclear treaty and will instead seek to go the route of North Korea at the first opportunity, there is little reason to place any faith in the P5+1 talks even if Kerry was telling Netanyahu what he believes to be the truth. The deeper the U.S. is sucked into a diplomatic dance with Iran, the more the world should worry.

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Will Israel Strike Iran? Iraq is No Precedent

A week after the administration first starting spinning the notion, the idea that the P5+1 talks with Iran made genuine progress toward a nuclear agreement has become conventional wisdom among the chattering classes. Based on little more than atmospherics generated by the Iranian charm offensive, Tehran offered the West nothing new and there is little reason to believe they think they need to give up enriching uranium or shut down their nuclear plants that are bringing them closer to a weapon. If the Obama administration is determined to press ahead toward what will be, at best, an unsatisfactory deal that will, despite the president’s protestations that any accord would be verifiable, lead inevitably to Iranian deceptions and an eventual bomb, then that will leave Israel’s leaders with a terrible dilemma. Their choice would then be between accepting a policy that places their country under an existential threat or breaking with its sole superpower ally and attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities on their own.

To those who claim that Israel can’t or won’t defy the United States, the Council of Foreign Relations’ Uri Sadot answers, think again. In an article published today in Foreign Policy provocatively titled “Rogue State,” Sadot argues that not only is such an outcome thinkable, the precedents already exist for an Israeli decision to fly solo in the face of not only international consensus but American desires.

Given the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has been rattling his rhetorical sabers in the direction of Iran for years, it’s hard to argue with Sadot’s conclusion. As late as just a week ago during an address to the Knesset, Netanyahu once again warned the world that Israel isn’t afraid to act alone if its security is endangered. Should Jerusalem ever be convinced that the U.S. was about to sell it down the river, Netanyahu might well decide to strike Iran. But Sadot is wrong when he claims, as he did in his article, that Israel’s 1981 attack on Iraq’s nuclear reactor at Osirak or the 2007 strike on the nuclear facility that Syria was building tells us much about Israel would or could do against Iran. There are simply no comparisons in terms of size or scale to the challenge awaiting the Israel Defense Forces in Iran or the diplomatic obstacles to such a decision by Netanyahu.

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A week after the administration first starting spinning the notion, the idea that the P5+1 talks with Iran made genuine progress toward a nuclear agreement has become conventional wisdom among the chattering classes. Based on little more than atmospherics generated by the Iranian charm offensive, Tehran offered the West nothing new and there is little reason to believe they think they need to give up enriching uranium or shut down their nuclear plants that are bringing them closer to a weapon. If the Obama administration is determined to press ahead toward what will be, at best, an unsatisfactory deal that will, despite the president’s protestations that any accord would be verifiable, lead inevitably to Iranian deceptions and an eventual bomb, then that will leave Israel’s leaders with a terrible dilemma. Their choice would then be between accepting a policy that places their country under an existential threat or breaking with its sole superpower ally and attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities on their own.

To those who claim that Israel can’t or won’t defy the United States, the Council of Foreign Relations’ Uri Sadot answers, think again. In an article published today in Foreign Policy provocatively titled “Rogue State,” Sadot argues that not only is such an outcome thinkable, the precedents already exist for an Israeli decision to fly solo in the face of not only international consensus but American desires.

Given the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has been rattling his rhetorical sabers in the direction of Iran for years, it’s hard to argue with Sadot’s conclusion. As late as just a week ago during an address to the Knesset, Netanyahu once again warned the world that Israel isn’t afraid to act alone if its security is endangered. Should Jerusalem ever be convinced that the U.S. was about to sell it down the river, Netanyahu might well decide to strike Iran. But Sadot is wrong when he claims, as he did in his article, that Israel’s 1981 attack on Iraq’s nuclear reactor at Osirak or the 2007 strike on the nuclear facility that Syria was building tells us much about Israel would or could do against Iran. There are simply no comparisons in terms of size or scale to the challenge awaiting the Israel Defense Forces in Iran or the diplomatic obstacles to such a decision by Netanyahu.

In terms of the Israeli mindset about enemy governments possessing such weapons of mass destruction, Sadot is right to assert that there is little difference between the thinking of Menachem Begin in 1981 and that of Netanyahu today. All the psychobabble thrown around about Begin’s experience of the Holocaust and the influence of Netanyahu’s ideologue father Benzion is mere gloss to the fact that these two men, just like Ehud Olmert in 2007, understand that their primary responsibility is to guard the existence of the State of Israel. Given the stated positions of the Iranian leadership as to their desire to eliminate Israel as well as their sponsorship of terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah, no leader of any sovereign state could afford to take such threats lightly. At the very least, Iranian nuclear capability would destabilize the Middle East (a fact that makes Israel’s Arab neighbors, with the exception of Iranian ally Syria, just as anxious to prevent the ayatollahs from realizing their nuclear ambition).

But the idea that Iraq is a precedent for Iran as far as Israel is concerned is absurd. Iraq had one lone nuclear reactor. It was relatively defenseless and the Iraqis weren’t expecting an attack. The same applies to what happened in Syria in 2007. By contrast, the Iranians have multiple facilities spread throughout their country. Some are in hardened, mountainside bunkers that may be invulnerable to conventional bombs. All are heavily guarded and the Iranians have been on alert for an Israeli strike for years.

It is a matter of some debate as to whether Israel’s vaunted armed forces are even capable of doing significant damage to Iran’s nuclear plants or destroying its stockpile of enriched uranium. Some analysts have always believed that only the United States, with its air bases in the region and aircraft carrier strike groups in the Persian Gulf, could do the job adequately. But even if we assume for the sake of argument that Israel can do it alone and that it could accomplish this task with air strikes alone rather than combining them with commando attacks, what would be required is a sustained campaign of strikes at multiple targets. At best this would strain Israel’s resources. That is especially true when you consider that Israel would also have to be prepared to engage Hezbollah’s terrorist enclave in southern Lebanon since most assume that Iran’s Shiite auxiliaries (who are also fighting for the ayatollahs in Syria) would attack Israel in support of Iran.

What is being discussed here is nothing short of an all-out war, not a surgical strike that could be executed without fear of the cost in terms of casualties or lost planes. While Netanyahu may not shrink from such a decision, his decision will be based on Israel’s current dilemma, not what happened in the past.

As to whether such a decision would endanger Israel’s alliance with the United States, Sadot might well be right that the Jewish state could ride out any turbulence that would result from an Iranian campaign. President Reagan’s affection for Israel overcame the animus toward the Jewish state’s actions expressed by Vice President George H.W. Bush and Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger. While the Obama administration may not be quite as sympathetic, if anything support for Israel throughout the country and in Congress is far greater today than 32 years ago.

But in 1981, the U.S. was not still conducting a war in the region as the U.S. is doing in Afghanistan. Nor, despite the tilt toward Iraq in its war with Iran, was the U.S. engaged in a diplomatic process with the Saddam Hussein regime as it is now with Tehran. The notion that Israel would attack the Iranians while the Americans are still talking to them strains credulity. Not even Begin would have done such a thing. Nor would Netanyahu deliberately offend President Obama in such a fashion. If Israel ever did attack Iran, it could only happen after the U.S. broke off negotiations with Iran or after Israel could allege that the Islamist regime had violated an agreement it had signed with the West.

“Rogue state” is a title that is more appropriate to a terrorist-sponsor tyranny like Iran than democratic Israel. But there’s little doubt that Israel would act to protect itself even if that required it to act alone. The Iraq and Syrian strikes are far from the only times in its history that the besieged Jewish state has had to ignore international opinion that is heavily influenced by anti-Semitism and opposition to Israel’s existence. But if it does act against Iran, the decision will be based on the far more complex dilemmas of the present day than anything that has happened in the past.

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Iran Belittles Confidence-Building

As diplomats and journalists look forward to a new round of nuclear negotiations next month (with centrifuges spinning all the while), hope is rampant. Alas, it appears increasingly misplaced. President Hassan Rouhani promises talks—but speaking to the press back in Iran declares Iran’s uranium enrichment non-negotiable. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei speaks of Iran’s “heroic flexibility,” but his aides bend over backwards to explain that means a shift in tactics, not in policy. Now, Kayhan—a newspaper many Iran watchers pay close attention to because its editor is a Supreme Leader appointee and therefore seems to mirror Khamenei’s positions—has published a lengthy column belittling the notion of confidence-building measures that lay at the heart of Western diplomacy. According to the author:

When facing the international environment, especially when we are facing the enemies, we cannot begin based on confidence building; because, on the one hand, on this basis, we accept that our behavior and actions in the past have been such that they have created concerns for the other side and resulted in this dispute of several years. In other words, in this very first step, we are signing a document of indebtedness and allowing the rival to write whatever he wants above our signature, and then say, very well, and now you must answer these, for example, 100 questions, one by one, and for the other side to have the option in every case to say whether he agrees or does not agree. Instead of confidence, we must create in the enemy belief, belief in the fact that you have the ability, despite all this opposition and confrontation, to follow your own path. The enemy must believe that the effect of its pressures and the ability to impose pressures is not at such a level as to force the opposite side into submission. The fact is that the ability of the Iranian people is very high with regard to neutralizing the pressures by the enemy, and the ability of the enemy to impose its will on the Iranian people is not great… Confidence building is not under our control, because the other side needs to accept it. Our religious beliefs and experience and the imperialist nature of the domineering powers tell us that this confidence will never be gained unless, God forbid, our people become a dead people.

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As diplomats and journalists look forward to a new round of nuclear negotiations next month (with centrifuges spinning all the while), hope is rampant. Alas, it appears increasingly misplaced. President Hassan Rouhani promises talks—but speaking to the press back in Iran declares Iran’s uranium enrichment non-negotiable. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei speaks of Iran’s “heroic flexibility,” but his aides bend over backwards to explain that means a shift in tactics, not in policy. Now, Kayhan—a newspaper many Iran watchers pay close attention to because its editor is a Supreme Leader appointee and therefore seems to mirror Khamenei’s positions—has published a lengthy column belittling the notion of confidence-building measures that lay at the heart of Western diplomacy. According to the author:

When facing the international environment, especially when we are facing the enemies, we cannot begin based on confidence building; because, on the one hand, on this basis, we accept that our behavior and actions in the past have been such that they have created concerns for the other side and resulted in this dispute of several years. In other words, in this very first step, we are signing a document of indebtedness and allowing the rival to write whatever he wants above our signature, and then say, very well, and now you must answer these, for example, 100 questions, one by one, and for the other side to have the option in every case to say whether he agrees or does not agree. Instead of confidence, we must create in the enemy belief, belief in the fact that you have the ability, despite all this opposition and confrontation, to follow your own path. The enemy must believe that the effect of its pressures and the ability to impose pressures is not at such a level as to force the opposite side into submission. The fact is that the ability of the Iranian people is very high with regard to neutralizing the pressures by the enemy, and the ability of the enemy to impose its will on the Iranian people is not great… Confidence building is not under our control, because the other side needs to accept it. Our religious beliefs and experience and the imperialist nature of the domineering powers tell us that this confidence will never be gained unless, God forbid, our people become a dead people.

If Kayhan is outlining the Supreme Leader’s thinking, then he is suggesting that the basis for the negotiations in which President Obama has invested so much hope is false. He appears to be reassuring his hardline constituency which is worried about the seeming direction of Iran’s diplomacy that they need not worry: There will be no fundamental change, and that therefore the flexibility is for show only. How comforting it must be for the Iranian regime to know that they can be forthright in Persian about their strategy, and need never worry that Western officials will pay attention because the Western press has forfeited its analytical role in favor advocacy.

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Don’t Trust Obama With Iran’s Cash

For the past five years defenders of President Obama’s Iran policy — such as Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg — have been telling us that when push comes to shove the administration will do the right thing. Their assumption has been that although the president will give diplomacy every possible chance to succeed, he takes his responsibility to defend U.S. interests as well as to ensure the security of Israel and other Middle East nations threatened by the Iranian nuclear program very seriously. Though he was slow to adopt the kind of crippling sanctions that are now doing the Iranian economy real harm and wasted years on feckless attempts to engage the ayatollahs, they told us he would stick to his principles and not relent until the danger was averted even if that meant the eventual use of force.

But that argument lost some of its already shaky credibility this week with the administration’s over-the-top reaction to Iran’s performance at the revived P5+1 talks in Geneva. The enthusiasm with which Iran’s proposals for lifting international sanctions were received betrayed what many of the president’s critics already feared: Washington’s desire to find a way out of the confrontation with Iran is far greater than its determination to actually end the Iranian threat. And that is why the new proposal being put forward for non-sanctions financial relief for Iran in exchange for nuclear concessions is a bad idea. It’s not just that any easing up of the pressure on Tehran will only encourage the Islamist regime to believe that they needn’t sacrifice their nuclear ambitions. It’s that this administration can’t be trusted to implement a plan, however well thought out, that charts a path for a retreat from its responsibility to see to it that Iran doesn’t get a bomb.

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For the past five years defenders of President Obama’s Iran policy — such as Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg — have been telling us that when push comes to shove the administration will do the right thing. Their assumption has been that although the president will give diplomacy every possible chance to succeed, he takes his responsibility to defend U.S. interests as well as to ensure the security of Israel and other Middle East nations threatened by the Iranian nuclear program very seriously. Though he was slow to adopt the kind of crippling sanctions that are now doing the Iranian economy real harm and wasted years on feckless attempts to engage the ayatollahs, they told us he would stick to his principles and not relent until the danger was averted even if that meant the eventual use of force.

But that argument lost some of its already shaky credibility this week with the administration’s over-the-top reaction to Iran’s performance at the revived P5+1 talks in Geneva. The enthusiasm with which Iran’s proposals for lifting international sanctions were received betrayed what many of the president’s critics already feared: Washington’s desire to find a way out of the confrontation with Iran is far greater than its determination to actually end the Iranian threat. And that is why the new proposal being put forward for non-sanctions financial relief for Iran in exchange for nuclear concessions is a bad idea. It’s not just that any easing up of the pressure on Tehran will only encourage the Islamist regime to believe that they needn’t sacrifice their nuclear ambitions. It’s that this administration can’t be trusted to implement a plan, however well thought out, that charts a path for a retreat from its responsibility to see to it that Iran doesn’t get a bomb.

As Goldberg wrote on Wednesday and the New York Times reports today, the plan for allowing Iran access to some of the $50 billion of its assets that are currently frozen in U.S. financial institutions was conceived at a highly reputable institution: the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies which is home to scholars who have been at the forefront of the battle to sound the alarm about Iranian nukes and other important issues. According to these reports, Mark Dubowitz, the Foundation’s founder is the author of a scheme by which the U.S. would trade chunks of that cash that Iran wants in exchange for various Iranian moves such as the closing down of some or all of its nuclear plants, suspension of enrichment or the export of its stockpile of enriched uranium.

The motivation for the idea seems sound. Its authors rightly believe that if the administration were to begin the process of dismantling the restrictions on dealing with Iran as payment for some concessions, it would lead to the quick unraveling of all the sanctions. Since Europe is desperate to get Iranian oil back on the market, that would mean the Iranians cold make promises (as they have done before) and be rewarded with tangible benefits. And once the sanctions are cracked open it will be impossible to re-impose them leaving Tehran free to go back to nuclear development with little to fear from the West.

But by leaving the sanctions in place and merely doling out some of Iran’s frozen cash, the U.S. could retain control of the process and keep the pressure up on the ayatollahs without worrying about sanctions enforcement falling apart. What’s more this could also allow the U.S. layer in the even tougher sanctions now before Congress should the Iranians balk at taking the first steps toward dismantling their drive for a weapon. Using the frozen assets as the bait for Iran seems to be a way of protecting the sanctions while giving President Obama some leeway to negotiate.

It all makes perfect sense but the problem with it remains the people being entrusted with the tools for pressuring Iran.

It has taken several long years for Congress, the White House and then America’s European allies to assemble the sanctions that are now being used against Iran. Once the administration starts buying into Iran’s attempts to wriggle its way out of sanctions, there may be no stopping them. After Washington starts dispensing cash to Iran, it will be a short hop and a skip to ending sanctions, especially for those here and in Europe that were never happy about them in the first place.

Moreover, as this week’s diplomatic contacts illustrated, this may not be an administration that can be trusted to properly evaluate Iran’s moves.

The Iranians have repeatedly demonstrated the way they use diplomacy to buy time to further their nuclear development and to deceive the West. Any agreement, partial or otherwise that leaves in place their ability to enrich uranium, continue heavy water research for a plutonium alternative or allows their facilities to keep operating will allow Tehran to eventually evade or trash any restrictions on their nuclear development.

But just as the Iranians must not be given an inch to maneuver to lie their way to a bomb neither should the Obama administration be given any method by which it can find a way to avoid keeping its promises on the issue.

By giving the administration a method to start dealing out goodies to the Iranians, pro-sanctions advocates are, in effect, negotiating with themselves and accepting the premise that the current diplomatic track is one that can lead to a real solution. That’s opening a pathway that will grant legitimacy to a strategy whose only real aim is to cut a deal with Iran, not ending the nuclear threat. Give the president an excuse to start backing down and, no matter how well-crafted the plan might be, he is almost certain to use it to move away from pressure on Tehran.

As even Goldberg has conceded, there is little reason to believe Iran has any intention of giving up its nuclear ambition. And nothing they have proposed this week, despite the joy their recycled offer brought to the administration, has undermined that conclusion. Iran’s charm offensive is working because they are feeding Washington lies the administration wants to believe. The Iranians already view President Obama with contempt. Once he starts rewarding their disingenuous promises with cash, that will only grow. Any loosening of sanctions of any kind prior to a complete dismantling of the Iranian program is a guarantee that diplomacy will fail. And any deal based on such a notion is more likely to get us closer to an Iranian bomb than it is to ending the threat.

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Is Netanyahu Bluffing on Iran?

There’s little doubt that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s continued attempts to persuade the world that the Iranian charm offensive is a fraud are falling flat. With the U.S. privately accentuating the positive about the reconvened nuclear P5+1 talks with Iran this week, the administration is ignoring the PM’s talk about Iranian President Hassan Rouhani being a “sheep in wolf’s clothing.” Moreover, even in Israel, where Netanyahu’s view of Rouhani is widely shared by figures across the political spectrum, the threats he made this week during a speech to the Knesset about the country acting on its own to knock out the Iranian nuclear program were seen by many as an empty bluff. The belief that, no matter what Netanyahu says now, Israel will have little choice but to accept a Western accommodation with Iran, is by no means confined to the prime minister’s critics.

That’s the gist of a Time article in which the magazine’s Jerusalem correspondent Karl Vick discusses what he calls Netanyahu’s “grumbling from the sidelines” while “the West makes progress in Geneva.” But whether or not you believe Israel can or will eventually attack Iran, there’s little question that the international community, led by the Obama administration, is heavily invested in diplomacy with Iran and may well sacrifice the Jewish state’s security in exchange for an opportunity to relieve themselves of the responsibility to act on the nuclear threat and to get Iranian oil flowing to Western markets again.

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There’s little doubt that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s continued attempts to persuade the world that the Iranian charm offensive is a fraud are falling flat. With the U.S. privately accentuating the positive about the reconvened nuclear P5+1 talks with Iran this week, the administration is ignoring the PM’s talk about Iranian President Hassan Rouhani being a “sheep in wolf’s clothing.” Moreover, even in Israel, where Netanyahu’s view of Rouhani is widely shared by figures across the political spectrum, the threats he made this week during a speech to the Knesset about the country acting on its own to knock out the Iranian nuclear program were seen by many as an empty bluff. The belief that, no matter what Netanyahu says now, Israel will have little choice but to accept a Western accommodation with Iran, is by no means confined to the prime minister’s critics.

That’s the gist of a Time article in which the magazine’s Jerusalem correspondent Karl Vick discusses what he calls Netanyahu’s “grumbling from the sidelines” while “the West makes progress in Geneva.” But whether or not you believe Israel can or will eventually attack Iran, there’s little question that the international community, led by the Obama administration, is heavily invested in diplomacy with Iran and may well sacrifice the Jewish state’s security in exchange for an opportunity to relieve themselves of the responsibility to act on the nuclear threat and to get Iranian oil flowing to Western markets again.

As the Times of Israel reported earlier this week, Netanyahu used a speech at a Knesset session devoted to the anniversary of the 1973 Yom Kippur War to make the case for a unilateral, preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Recalling the complacence of Israeli leaders 40 years ago that led to Egypt and Syria being able to achieve a surprise attack, Netanyahu said that there were important lessons to be learned from this history for the Jewish state:

The first lesson is to never underestimate a threat, never underestimate an enemy, never ignore the signs of danger. We can’t assume the enemy will act in ways that are convenient for us. The enemy can surprise us. Israel will not fall asleep on its watch again,” he vowed.

The second lesson, he added, was that “we can’t surrender the option of a preventive strike. It is not necessary in every situation, and it must be weighed carefully and seriously. But there are situations in which paying heed to the international price of such a step is outweighed by the price in blood we will pay if we absorb a strategic strike that will demand a response later on, and perhaps too late.”

The Israeli leader is right on both points. But Israel’s problem today is different from that of 1973. Then, Prime Minister Golda Meir feared being blamed for starting a war and thought sitting back and taking the first blows would engender greater support from the United States. Indeed, even after it was clear she and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan had blundered and cost the lives of many Israelis, she insisted that her decision had been for the best since it helped ensure the U.S. resupply effort during the course of the war.

Today, Israel’s problem is more complex since an attack on Iran while the U.S. is involved in a diplomatic process with it would be viewed as an even more serious offense to the administration than a preemptive attack in 1973 would have been. Simply put, so long as the Iranians can keep the Americans talking to them, they have nothing to fear from Israel and nothing that Netanyahu said changes that.

More problematic is the clear desire on the part of the administration to buy into what rightly appears to the Israelis as the transparent fraudulence of the Rouhani charm offensive.

Vick discussed the analysis of Gary Samore, President Obama’s former top advisor on weapons of mass destruction, who said that any deal that gave the Iranians the ability to convert their stockpile of nuclear material to a bomb in a matter of months would compromise Israel’s security as well as that of the West. But since that is all the Iranians are offering the West, one has to question the motives of an administration when one of its top negotiators tells the New York Times in an off-the-record interview that, “I have never had such intense, detailed, straightforward, candid conversations with the Iranian delegation before,” when they have done nothing but recycle old proposals that have been previously rejected.

Under the circumstances, no wonder Netanyahu feels the need to rattle Israel’s saber at Iran. Unless he can convince the United States to start acting as it means to keep President Obama’s promises on the issue, it looks as the new diplomatic track will result in a deal that will compromise Israel’s security or buy the Iranians months if not years of extra time to get closer to their nuclear goal.

Netanyahu may not be bluffing about being willing to take the heat that a strike on Iran would generate. Indeed, if the West makes the kind of deal that Iran is offering, he may someday feel he has no choice but to do so. But until the Iranians blow off this attempt to negotiate the way they have every previous attempt, it’s likely that Washington doesn’t believe him.

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Iran Talks: Perception Versus Reality

Iran is well pleased by the outcome of yesterday’s revived P5+1 talks and why shouldn’t they be? The convening of a new round of negotiations after previous incarnations of this process were pronounced dead because of Iranian intransigence and obfuscation was a victory in and of itself for them. The renewed enthusiasm for talking to a country that has proved time and again that it only uses diplomacy as a method for deceit and delay when it comes to Western efforts to restrain their drive for nuclear weapons was due entirely to the perception that new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is a moderate. That Rouhani has been guilty of playing the same game when he was Iran’s nuclear negotiator is a fact that was ignored even as the U.S. and its European allies headed down the garden path with Tehran again. Just by showing up, the Iranians ensured that the meeting would conclude with announcements for another such rendezvous next month.

But just as important for the Iranians was the fact that theirs negotiating partners were so enthralled by the prospect of a new era of relations with Rouhani that they treated the Iranian proposal for ending the dispute as if it were actually something new and worth talking about. The Iranians appear to have impressed the representatives of the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany with a power point presentation that supposedly demonstrated how they could go on enriching uranium, hold onto their stockpile of nuclear fuel and yet somehow be trusted not to build a bomb. But once the Rouhani-inspired rose-colored glasses are off, it’s more than obvious to objective observers that the Iranians showed up in Geneva with nothing new to say. That raises the question as to whether the President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry understand this and even if they do, are they sufficiently committed to keeping their word on Iran that they will not be pressured into pretending that this is the prelude to a genuine breakthrough.

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Iran is well pleased by the outcome of yesterday’s revived P5+1 talks and why shouldn’t they be? The convening of a new round of negotiations after previous incarnations of this process were pronounced dead because of Iranian intransigence and obfuscation was a victory in and of itself for them. The renewed enthusiasm for talking to a country that has proved time and again that it only uses diplomacy as a method for deceit and delay when it comes to Western efforts to restrain their drive for nuclear weapons was due entirely to the perception that new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is a moderate. That Rouhani has been guilty of playing the same game when he was Iran’s nuclear negotiator is a fact that was ignored even as the U.S. and its European allies headed down the garden path with Tehran again. Just by showing up, the Iranians ensured that the meeting would conclude with announcements for another such rendezvous next month.

But just as important for the Iranians was the fact that theirs negotiating partners were so enthralled by the prospect of a new era of relations with Rouhani that they treated the Iranian proposal for ending the dispute as if it were actually something new and worth talking about. The Iranians appear to have impressed the representatives of the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany with a power point presentation that supposedly demonstrated how they could go on enriching uranium, hold onto their stockpile of nuclear fuel and yet somehow be trusted not to build a bomb. But once the Rouhani-inspired rose-colored glasses are off, it’s more than obvious to objective observers that the Iranians showed up in Geneva with nothing new to say. That raises the question as to whether the President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry understand this and even if they do, are they sufficiently committed to keeping their word on Iran that they will not be pressured into pretending that this is the prelude to a genuine breakthrough.

While the details of the Iranian proposal were not made public the statements they have issued both before and after the meeting indicates that they haven’t actually budged an inch from where they were when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was Iran’s front man. They are still refusing to shut down nuclear plants, to stop enriching uranium or to have their horde of enriched uranium shipped out of the country so as to ensure that it is not used for a weapon. Nor have they shown the slightest interest in halting their parallel plutonium project by stopping their heavy water research.

 For all the talk about the Iranian charm offensive in which Rouhani plays, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu aptly put it, the “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” the fact is their nuclear stand is virtually identical to what it was when Ahmadinejad, the “wolf in wolf’s clothing,” was their president. If the West were to agree to their terms it would be merely a matter of time before the Iranians would, as the North Koreans did before them, evade their agreements and present the world with a nuclear fait accompli, secure in the knowledge that no one would be able to do a thing about it.

Given the fact that the real boss of Iran is Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and not Rouhani makes this easily understandable. All Rouhani has done is to change the atmospherics. When it comes to the actual policies of the country, they are unchanged because the real leadership is unchanged.

All that has changed is that for the first time, those in the West who want to find an excuse to back away from their commitments to stopping Iran have a rationale. In the past, Iran’s public leadership had no concerns about catering to Western sensibilities thereby rendering it difficult to make the argument that it was run by rational and sensible persons. Replacing Ahmadinejad with Rouhani allows those so inclined to project their own feelings about nuclear weapons onto Iran even if doing it so is the height of absurdity. But it is on that flimsy basis that Iran is asking the West to relax the economic sanctions that are crippling their economy.

Given the unchanged Iranian position, no one in Washington should be even considering loosening sanctions. To the contrary, this is exactly the moment for strengthening them and making it impossible for Iran to sell its oil or transact any business with the rest of the world. That is the only thing that could, even in theory, persuade Khamenei to authorize real concessions rather than merely recycling old proposals that were rightly rejected as merely slowing Iran’s march toward nuclear capability.

But with yet another round of negotiations scheduled for November, the Obama administration appears anxious to play along with Iran. By not contradicting the Iranians deceptive talk of progress, Washington is playing right into their hands. The more the talks are depicted as progressing, the harder it will be to break them off or to heighten the pressure on Tehran to do more than pay lip service to Western concerns. The result is a perfect storm that suits the ayatollah’s interests. They can play at moderation while their centrifuges keep spinning all winter if necessary. And that’s exactly what they’ll until Obama calls them out. But given the administration’s blind faith in diplomacy, it’s far from certain that moment will ever come no matter what the Iranians do.

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Who Let Iran Get So Close to a Nuke?

The smoke signals coming from the first session of the reconvened P5+1 talks in Geneva today don’t tell us much about whether Iran’s charm offensive is succeeding. The Iranians presented a plan to the group of negotiators representing the members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany that will do little to alter their drive to gain a nuclear weapon. Tehran is counting on the ardent desire of the Obama administration for an end to the confrontation over the issue echoed by some (though perhaps not all) of its European partners to enable them to at least draw out the negotiations over the coming months if not to fool the West into signing onto a deal that will be easily evaded by the ayatollahs.

So far, we have little indication as to whether the U.S. is willing to accept the sort of “bad deal” that Secretary of State John Kerry, let alone Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, has warned against. But there is one thing that we know. The reason why the negotiations are so critical is that over the past several years Iran has made so much progress toward the completion of a bomb that there isn’t time for a long drawn out diplomatic process. As the New York Times reports:

On Monday, a senior American official said that the United States wanted Iran to take steps that were “transparent and verifiable” to constrain its program and to assure the West that it was not intending to produce a nuclear bomb.

Iran’s nuclear efforts had advanced so much, the American official added, that Iran needed to take stops now to halt or even reverse its nuclear program so there was time to negotiate a comprehensive agreement.

It’s fair to point out that American officials have spent the last five years persuading those who are worried about the nuclear threat reassuring us that there is plenty of time to talk about it and that the “window of diplomacy” was still open. To that end, the Obama administration has wasted years on laughable attempts to engage the Islamist regime and on diplomacy aimed at assembling a weak international coalition willing to impose sanctions on Iran and a diplomatic process that consistently flopped. Thus, if Iran is so much closer to realizing its dream of obtaining a genocidal weapon and making diplomacy difficult it is only because they have successfully manipulated a U.S. administration that wanted to be deceived. That’s something to be taken into consideration as we observe the ability of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to persuade the West to restart diplomacy almost as if the past decade of talks had never occurred.

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The smoke signals coming from the first session of the reconvened P5+1 talks in Geneva today don’t tell us much about whether Iran’s charm offensive is succeeding. The Iranians presented a plan to the group of negotiators representing the members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany that will do little to alter their drive to gain a nuclear weapon. Tehran is counting on the ardent desire of the Obama administration for an end to the confrontation over the issue echoed by some (though perhaps not all) of its European partners to enable them to at least draw out the negotiations over the coming months if not to fool the West into signing onto a deal that will be easily evaded by the ayatollahs.

So far, we have little indication as to whether the U.S. is willing to accept the sort of “bad deal” that Secretary of State John Kerry, let alone Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, has warned against. But there is one thing that we know. The reason why the negotiations are so critical is that over the past several years Iran has made so much progress toward the completion of a bomb that there isn’t time for a long drawn out diplomatic process. As the New York Times reports:

On Monday, a senior American official said that the United States wanted Iran to take steps that were “transparent and verifiable” to constrain its program and to assure the West that it was not intending to produce a nuclear bomb.

Iran’s nuclear efforts had advanced so much, the American official added, that Iran needed to take stops now to halt or even reverse its nuclear program so there was time to negotiate a comprehensive agreement.

It’s fair to point out that American officials have spent the last five years persuading those who are worried about the nuclear threat reassuring us that there is plenty of time to talk about it and that the “window of diplomacy” was still open. To that end, the Obama administration has wasted years on laughable attempts to engage the Islamist regime and on diplomacy aimed at assembling a weak international coalition willing to impose sanctions on Iran and a diplomatic process that consistently flopped. Thus, if Iran is so much closer to realizing its dream of obtaining a genocidal weapon and making diplomacy difficult it is only because they have successfully manipulated a U.S. administration that wanted to be deceived. That’s something to be taken into consideration as we observe the ability of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to persuade the West to restart diplomacy almost as if the past decade of talks had never occurred.

While the details of the Iranian proposal were not made public, the regime’s representatives have made it clear that they have no intention of exporting their existing stockpile of enriched uranium or of halting their production of more nuclear fuel. But even if the West rejects, as they likely will, the Iranian proposal, there is little doubt that the talks will continue. But the Iranians have already scored a triumph by getting the U.S. to concede their right to a nuclear program, as President Obama said at the United Nations last month, albeit one whose purpose is peaceful. So long as Iran keeps enriching and their existing supply remains within their borders, they retain the capacity to quickly repossess it and get it up to military grade thus rendering the safeguards proposed by Western negotiators meaningless.

Most of those pushing for the new talks because of their belief in Rouhani’s supposed moderation have emphasized the need to turn the page on the failure of past diplomatic endeavors with Iran. But it is precisely because the Iranians have been so good at deceiving the West before that skepticism should be the main theme of American diplomacy with Iran.

This is, after all, not the first time that a president came into office determined to push diplomacy on this issue. When President Obama arrived at the White House in January 2009, he acted as if his predecessor had never tried to reach out to the Iranians. Though the Iranians had repeatedly stiffed the Bush administration’s efforts to cut a nuclear deal with them (with Rouhani being the point man in the deception at one point), President Obama insisted that the U.S. had to restart the process at square one as his outreach efforts were employed.

If rather than ignoring the past in 2009, Obama had built upon the experiences of the past the U.S. might not be in the difficult position in which it now finds itself with little margin for error when it comes to Iran. Had tough sanctions been imposed in 2009 rather than waiting until 2012, not only would the Islamist regime be far weaker, they would also be approaching nuclear talks without having used that time to build up its supply of enriched uranium.

The point of rehashing this history is not so much to blame the president for leaving the world so little margin of error on this threat — though he certainly deserves it — but to illustrate that there is a high price to pay for mistakes. Giving the diplomats more time to fail is not, as the administration seems to think, a cost-free exercise. Having spent five years failing to halt Iran, the same president is now embarking on a diplomatic process that may well prove to be open-ended and unlikely to succeed. Another such triumph for Iran may take the U.S. to the point where it may well be too late to use force to stop the Iranians. If so, instead of merely chalking that up to Iranian bad faith, we would do well to hold accountable those in the West that made this possible.

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A Bad Deal is the Only Kind Iran is Offering

Secretary of State John Kerry sounded a note of appropriate caution this past weekend when he said that although he believed the window for diplomacy with Iran was “cracking open,” he believes “no deal is better than a bad deal.” His willingness to admit that there was such a thing as a bad deal with Tehran was a sign that there were some limits to the wave of optimism sweeping through official Washington and the foreign policy establishment about the supposedly moderating influence of new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Iran’s position on its drive for nuclear capability.

But coming as it did the same day that an Iranian government spokesman made it clear that all Tehran would offer the West tomorrow when the diplomats convene in Geneva for another round of the P5+1 talks was exactly the kind of bad deal that Kerry said he fears, it is by no means clear as to whether his stance is more than rhetoric aimed at soothing the fears of a gathering of supporters of AIPAC to whom Kerry’s remarks were directed. It remains an open question as to whether the U.S. would adhere to President Obama’s declared refusal to countenance an Iranian bomb and therefore insist that they cease refining uranium and export all of their existing stockpile even if that means passing up the opportunity for an agreement that would end the danger of a conflict over the issue. Just as important, it is also uncertain that even if Kerry means what he says about an American refusal to accept an obviously inadequate agreement whether its European allies would follow suit. As last week’s signals from Britain and France to Israel showed, the rest of the members of the P5+1 negotiating team are united mostly by their desire to get out from under their commitments to stopping Iran rather than following through with more sanctions or force if a deal is never reached. If France and France jump ship and join Russia and China in seeking to put the issue aside with a deal that Iran can easily ignore or break, then Kerry’s promise may soon be put to the test.

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Secretary of State John Kerry sounded a note of appropriate caution this past weekend when he said that although he believed the window for diplomacy with Iran was “cracking open,” he believes “no deal is better than a bad deal.” His willingness to admit that there was such a thing as a bad deal with Tehran was a sign that there were some limits to the wave of optimism sweeping through official Washington and the foreign policy establishment about the supposedly moderating influence of new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Iran’s position on its drive for nuclear capability.

But coming as it did the same day that an Iranian government spokesman made it clear that all Tehran would offer the West tomorrow when the diplomats convene in Geneva for another round of the P5+1 talks was exactly the kind of bad deal that Kerry said he fears, it is by no means clear as to whether his stance is more than rhetoric aimed at soothing the fears of a gathering of supporters of AIPAC to whom Kerry’s remarks were directed. It remains an open question as to whether the U.S. would adhere to President Obama’s declared refusal to countenance an Iranian bomb and therefore insist that they cease refining uranium and export all of their existing stockpile even if that means passing up the opportunity for an agreement that would end the danger of a conflict over the issue. Just as important, it is also uncertain that even if Kerry means what he says about an American refusal to accept an obviously inadequate agreement whether its European allies would follow suit. As last week’s signals from Britain and France to Israel showed, the rest of the members of the P5+1 negotiating team are united mostly by their desire to get out from under their commitments to stopping Iran rather than following through with more sanctions or force if a deal is never reached. If France and France jump ship and join Russia and China in seeking to put the issue aside with a deal that Iran can easily ignore or break, then Kerry’s promise may soon be put to the test.

Caution notwithstanding, it’s clear that the administration is more than eager to play along with the Rouhanimania that has caused the West to revive a P5+1 process that has repeatedly failed. For all of the fact that President Obama and Kerry have always said the right thing about stopping Iran, their actions have never matched their rhetoric. From the point of view of this U.S. foreign policy team, the “window of diplomacy” they constantly refer to, is never closed no matter how often the Iranians have shut it in their faces. Their commitment to diplomacy and engagement with Iran is not so much a tactic as it is a function of their near blind faith in international agreements, the United Nations and multilateralism.

The Iranians know that as their decision to make it clear that they will never agree to the export of their stockpile of enriched uranium illustrates. They also know that the Europeans have never swerved from their intention to craft a nuclear deal that would allow the ayatollahs to hold onto a functioning nuclear program, albeit one with safeguards that would theoretically prevent it from being converted to nuclear use.

Thus rather than give the Iranians an incentive to face facts and give up their nuclear dream, the prelude to the latest talks have given them good reason to give nothing in their proposals that impinge on their ability to flout any deal and move quickly to realizing their nuclear ambition much as North Korea did after a similar round of diplomatic appeasement aimed at stopping them.

In Kerry’s favor is the fact that he won’t be in Geneva tomorrow, a source of no small amount of frustration for the Iranians. If he was offered the opportunity for a dramatic announcement and photo op, it’s hard to imagine that he would have the character or the principles to turn it down even if meant accepting a bad deal. What the Iranians are clearly hoping is that by using their time honored tactics of prevarication and delay, they can not only drag out the process — and thus buy their scientists even more time — but to lure Kerry to a future gathering where such a temptation might prove too much for him.

By now the administration should have learned that the only deal they would ever get from Iran is a bad one. No amount of economic pain felt by their citizens can convince Rouhani’s boss, Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to see reason and abandon their nuclear ambition. Nor do they believe in Obama’s threats. The ayatollahs see the president as a paper tiger that will never make good on the promise to use force as a last resort. And their contempt for him will grow if they can peel off his European allies away from the flimsy coalition against Iran that the president built. But in the long run, with Washington as enthralled by the false promise of Iranian moderation as London and Paris (let alone, Moscow or Beijing), the odds of Kerry being able to retain his aversion to a bad deal must be considered slim.

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Iran Fears Women More Than the West

Ahmad Khatami, a senior Iranian cleric and a member of the Assembly of Experts that chooses the next Supreme Leader has warned Iranians not to fall into the trap of negotiating resolution of the nuclear issue with the United States. “If this issue is resolved, the [US] will raise the issue of human rights,” he said, explaining, “Today their problem is the nuclear issue, and when this issue is resolved, they will raise the issue of human rights and say whatsoever rights men have, women should have them, too.”

Almost two decades ago, I head Azar Nafisi, who would a few years later become a New York Times bestselling author, speak in Philadelphia. While in the rest of the Middle East women fought for rights they never had, she commented, in Iran they were fighting for rights that had been taken away from them. Alas, that is no longer true today, because many Arab states and Turkey have followed Iran’s path in stripping away women’s rights.

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Ahmad Khatami, a senior Iranian cleric and a member of the Assembly of Experts that chooses the next Supreme Leader has warned Iranians not to fall into the trap of negotiating resolution of the nuclear issue with the United States. “If this issue is resolved, the [US] will raise the issue of human rights,” he said, explaining, “Today their problem is the nuclear issue, and when this issue is resolved, they will raise the issue of human rights and say whatsoever rights men have, women should have them, too.”

Almost two decades ago, I head Azar Nafisi, who would a few years later become a New York Times bestselling author, speak in Philadelphia. While in the rest of the Middle East women fought for rights they never had, she commented, in Iran they were fighting for rights that had been taken away from them. Alas, that is no longer true today, because many Arab states and Turkey have followed Iran’s path in stripping away women’s rights.

I only wish that President Obama, Vice President Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel cared an iota for human rights and defending Western liberalism. When they worked in the senate, they certainly did not and since assuming their executive branch positions, they have grown even more willing to dispense with any notion of caring for women’s rights, human rights, or individual liberty.

Even so, even if Iranian hardliners have less to worry about from this administration than they might expect, Khatami’s comments should be an important reminder that the problem with the Islamic Republic isn’t merely some diplomatic understanding, but rather a backwards ideology which has oriented Iran’s clerical leadership toward permanent hostility with not only the United States but also modernity.

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Obama and Iran’s Nuclear Red Line

Iran is feeling cocky right now and who can blame them? The replacement of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with Hassan Rouhani as regime front man not only improved their imaged but also was enough to trick the West into restarting negotiations aimed at stopping their nuclear program. The assumption in Washington, London and Paris is that Rouhani’s new role means that a decade of diplomatic failure is about to end as Iran finally behaves reasonably and agrees to halt their drive to obtain a nuclear weapon. Tehran’s long record of using diplomacy as a delaying tactic rather than a path to a solution ought to inspire caution on the part of the P5+1 group that will reassemble in Geneva this week in order to pick up where they left off after the last round of talks failed. But, as I wrote last week, the warnings issued by Britain and France to Israel that Jerusalem should be prepared for a deal that will leave Iran still in possession of a working nuclear infrastructure may be a sign that the West may be so committed to ending the standoff that any deal will do.

But that conclusion doesn’t seem to be limited to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu whose warnings about Iran’s real intentions have led to his isolation. The Iranians appear to be thinking along the same lines if the latest pronouncement from one of their spokesmen is any indication. Reuters reports that Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi made it clear on Iranian TV that the regime has its own nuclear “red line:”

Of course we will negotiate regarding the form, amount, and various levels of [uranium] enrichment, but the shipping of materials out of the country is our red line.

This is no minor detail. If Iran isn’t going to allow the removal of enriched uranium, then a nuclear accord will be one that will be easily evaded and make the entire process a mockery. That makes it imperative that President Obama and other Western leaders show some spine at the talks even if they are desperate to use Rouhani as an excuse to back away from confrontation.

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Iran is feeling cocky right now and who can blame them? The replacement of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with Hassan Rouhani as regime front man not only improved their imaged but also was enough to trick the West into restarting negotiations aimed at stopping their nuclear program. The assumption in Washington, London and Paris is that Rouhani’s new role means that a decade of diplomatic failure is about to end as Iran finally behaves reasonably and agrees to halt their drive to obtain a nuclear weapon. Tehran’s long record of using diplomacy as a delaying tactic rather than a path to a solution ought to inspire caution on the part of the P5+1 group that will reassemble in Geneva this week in order to pick up where they left off after the last round of talks failed. But, as I wrote last week, the warnings issued by Britain and France to Israel that Jerusalem should be prepared for a deal that will leave Iran still in possession of a working nuclear infrastructure may be a sign that the West may be so committed to ending the standoff that any deal will do.

But that conclusion doesn’t seem to be limited to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu whose warnings about Iran’s real intentions have led to his isolation. The Iranians appear to be thinking along the same lines if the latest pronouncement from one of their spokesmen is any indication. Reuters reports that Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi made it clear on Iranian TV that the regime has its own nuclear “red line:”

Of course we will negotiate regarding the form, amount, and various levels of [uranium] enrichment, but the shipping of materials out of the country is our red line.

This is no minor detail. If Iran isn’t going to allow the removal of enriched uranium, then a nuclear accord will be one that will be easily evaded and make the entire process a mockery. That makes it imperative that President Obama and other Western leaders show some spine at the talks even if they are desperate to use Rouhani as an excuse to back away from confrontation.

It should be understood that any nuclear deal that leaves Iran’s nuclear program in place is an invitation to a repeat of what happened when the West tried to use diplomacy to prevent North Korea from obtaining nuclear weapons. Anything short of a complete dismantling of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure including its plutonium project as well as the well-documented enrichment of uranium will simply delay the Islamist regime’s push toward a weapon. But if Iran is allowed to not only keep its nuclear plants operating — ostensibly to give the oil-rich nation a new source of energy — but to keep the enriched uranium inside their borders, the diplomatic process will be revealed to be a scam whose only purpose is to allow the West to pretend to be doing something about the problem.

By stating its “red line” in this manner, the Iranians are challenging President Obama. The administration’s rhetoric on the Iranian threat has been consistently strong even though it has not been matched by actions that are aimed at achieving its goals. For five years, its attempts at engagement and diplomacy have failed miserably even as the president continued to insist that there was still time to try again. But now that the P5+1 talks are about to resume and with happy talk about Rouhani’s beneficent influence on Iranian policy the conventional wisdom of the day, the president will be put to a test that will allow us to finally assess the sincerity of his pronouncements on the issue. If Iran is allowed to get away with keeping its red lines on enriched uranium or is permitted to drag out the talks on such a false premise as the U.S. puts off toughening economic sanctions, it will no longer be possible to argue that he is serious about stopping Tehran.

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Congress Won’t Spoil Iran Diplomacy

With the Western powers set to sit down in Geneva next week for another attempt at diplomacy with Iran, the foreign-policy establishment’s hopes for an end to the confrontation between Tehran and Washington are high. But those who have worked to revive the failed Obama administration policy of engagement with Iran are still worried. According to the New York Times, their main concern isn’t Iran’s long history of deceitful diplomacy whose only purpose is to buy time for their nuclear program by fooling gullible Western envoys. No, the main obstacle to the goal of stepping back from confrontation with Iran over its drive for nuclear weapons is Congress. With the Senate set to consider new sanctions on Iran in the coming weeks, the fear is that Congress will spike any chance for engagement and empower the “hawks” in Tehran to stop new Iranian President Rouhani’s supposed efforts to make peace with the West.

While Congress is about as popular as bubonic plague these days, this assessment of the situation which predominates in the Times account is nonsense. Just as it was only Congress that dragged President Obama, kicking and screaming, to belatedly adopt tough sanctions on Iran, it now appears that the only possible restraint on an administration that appears determined to go back down the garden path with the ayatollahs is the continued willingness of the House and the Senate to ratchet up the pressure on Tehran. While the president has posed as the adult in the room when it comes to budget talks, in this case it is the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue that is taking the realistic view. Indeed, if there is any remote chance that Iran will be prepared to give up its drive for nuclear weapons, it will only be the result of congressional action that forced the president’s hand.

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With the Western powers set to sit down in Geneva next week for another attempt at diplomacy with Iran, the foreign-policy establishment’s hopes for an end to the confrontation between Tehran and Washington are high. But those who have worked to revive the failed Obama administration policy of engagement with Iran are still worried. According to the New York Times, their main concern isn’t Iran’s long history of deceitful diplomacy whose only purpose is to buy time for their nuclear program by fooling gullible Western envoys. No, the main obstacle to the goal of stepping back from confrontation with Iran over its drive for nuclear weapons is Congress. With the Senate set to consider new sanctions on Iran in the coming weeks, the fear is that Congress will spike any chance for engagement and empower the “hawks” in Tehran to stop new Iranian President Rouhani’s supposed efforts to make peace with the West.

While Congress is about as popular as bubonic plague these days, this assessment of the situation which predominates in the Times account is nonsense. Just as it was only Congress that dragged President Obama, kicking and screaming, to belatedly adopt tough sanctions on Iran, it now appears that the only possible restraint on an administration that appears determined to go back down the garden path with the ayatollahs is the continued willingness of the House and the Senate to ratchet up the pressure on Tehran. While the president has posed as the adult in the room when it comes to budget talks, in this case it is the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue that is taking the realistic view. Indeed, if there is any remote chance that Iran will be prepared to give up its drive for nuclear weapons, it will only be the result of congressional action that forced the president’s hand.

This is a dismaying prospect for those who, like the president and Secretary of State John Kerry, have fallen hook, line, and sinker for the Rouhani charm offensive. That effort has a two-fold purpose. One is to give Western governments whose heart was never really in the effort to stop Iran an excuse to back away from the sanctions that have ruined the Islamist regime’s economy. As I wrote yesterday, the Europeans are already signaling that they wish to go in this direction and are also warning Israel that there is little chance they will stick to a position that requires the Iranians to give up all enrichment of uranium or to scrap their plutonium option.

There is little reason to trust Rouhani, a veteran of Iran’s bait-and-switch diplomacy as well as a faithful servant of a hateful, anti-Semitic terrorist-sponsoring regime. Nor is there any reason to think that he is any less interested in preserving Iran’s nuclear options than his far-less-presentable predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But those who are appalled at President Obama’s consistent rhetorical stand threatening the Iranians with force if they don’t back down and give up their nukes (a group that may include the president himself) have used Rouhani’s victory in Iran’s fake democratic election as an excuse to reboot a diplomatic process that the Iranians had seemingly finally ended earlier this year. But with the international press buying into Rouhani’s appeal, a path may have been cleared that will lead to Western recognition of Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium and putting in place safeguards that will be as easily ignored once the sanctions are scrapped as were similar efforts to stop North Korea from going nuclear.

But that’s where Congress comes in. Unlike most of the foreign-policy establishment, few there are buying into the Rouhani ruse. Indeed, one Iran appeaser lamented to the Times that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech on the Iranian threat in which he rightly labeled Rouhani a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” was “widely ridiculed in this town but it largely reflects the views of many members of Congress.”

He’s right. There is a solid bipartisan majority in both houses that understands that the only measures short of war that can impact the situation are draconian sanctions. The new sanctions will make it even more difficult for businesses to deal with Iran and for the regime to go on using the sale of oil to finance their nuclear and terrorist activities. Had it not been for the determined efforts of senators like Republican Mark Kirk or Democrat Robert Menendez, the administration might well have succeeded in spiking past sanctions bills that it now brags about having enforced.

It should also be understood that the notion that Congress will give ammunition to Iranian hardliners and hurt Rouhani’s peaceful efforts is an absurd reading of what is happening in Tehran. His boss Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is using Rouhani as a human shield. But nothing has changed about Iran’s policies or its intentions, as their successful recent military efforts in Syria prove.

If diplomacy has any chance at all it will only be because Congress has forced Obama’s hand via enacting measures that have manufactured economic pressure on Iran. That’s as true today as it was two years ago. Just as important, the excuses that will be used to put off more sanctions once next week’s Geneva meeting proves as much a failure as past gatherings need to be discounted in advance. The whole point of the Iranian diplomatic strategy is to create delay. The Times accurately summarizes the rationale for delaying sanctions:

The problem, say former administration officials, is that this round of talks is unlikely to produce a tangible proposal. While Iran may signal a commitment to negotiate, they say, it is not expected to offer to suspend its enrichment of uranium or mothball suspect facilities.

“If people on the Hill are waiting for dramatic results on the evening of Oct. 16 to decide whether to pass sanctions, that’s wrong,” said Robert Einhorn, a former special adviser for nonproliferation in the State Department. “One shouldn’t set up a situation where unless major progress is being made, we impose new sanctions.”

Actually, that’s exactly what the U.S. should be doing. Nothing short of a total economic embargo of Iran will convince the ayatollahs that their latest effort to pull the wool over the West’s eyes won’t work. If Congress listens to the voices calling for them to pull their punches on Iran, the result won’t be a diplomatic breakthrough. What will follow will be more months and perhaps years of delay that will enhance the chances that Iran will get its bomb long before President Obama summons the will to do something about it.

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Euros Signal They’re Ready to Appease Iran

Up until now, Iran’s diplomatic charm offensive has focused on getting the West to think differently about the Islamist regime now that it has a new front man. But Tehran’s efforts are about to cut straight to the heart of the dispute that has made it an international pariah. Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Iran was readying a new offer about its nuclear program intended to persuade the West to drop or at least to scale back the economic sanctions that have crippled its economy. But lest there be much doubt about how gratefully the Iranian proposal will be received in Western Europe, according to a report in Haaretz, French and British diplomats are already telling Israel to be prepared for an interim deal that could give the ayatollahs exactly what they have been asking for all along.

The P5+1 negotiating group, consisting of the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany, will meet with the Iranians next week in Geneva to receive the Iranian proposal. This group has tried and failed repeatedly to get the Iranians to at least pretend they were interested in a nuclear agreement for years and has consistently failed. But the appearance on the scene of new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is enough to convince all the parties, some of which were beginning to concede that the chances of an agreement were remote after the last P5+1 fiasco earlier this year, that a new accord is a real possibility. So long as the discussion was merely about the need for more diplomacy, those in favor of a new round of engagement with the Islamist regime had a strong position. But the decision of the Europeans to tell Israel in advance of the Geneva gathering that an “interim agreement” that could conceivably scale back sanctions may happen is a sign that there is more going on here than just giving diplomacy a last chance. The talk about accepting Iranian promises to cut down on their enrichment of uranium and easing sanctions in return is not merely weakening the West’s negotiating position. It is a clear sign that Rouhani’s outreach efforts are causing the Europeans to adopt a policy of appeasement that may well lead to the realization of a nuclear threat they have long feared.

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Up until now, Iran’s diplomatic charm offensive has focused on getting the West to think differently about the Islamist regime now that it has a new front man. But Tehran’s efforts are about to cut straight to the heart of the dispute that has made it an international pariah. Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Iran was readying a new offer about its nuclear program intended to persuade the West to drop or at least to scale back the economic sanctions that have crippled its economy. But lest there be much doubt about how gratefully the Iranian proposal will be received in Western Europe, according to a report in Haaretz, French and British diplomats are already telling Israel to be prepared for an interim deal that could give the ayatollahs exactly what they have been asking for all along.

The P5+1 negotiating group, consisting of the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany, will meet with the Iranians next week in Geneva to receive the Iranian proposal. This group has tried and failed repeatedly to get the Iranians to at least pretend they were interested in a nuclear agreement for years and has consistently failed. But the appearance on the scene of new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is enough to convince all the parties, some of which were beginning to concede that the chances of an agreement were remote after the last P5+1 fiasco earlier this year, that a new accord is a real possibility. So long as the discussion was merely about the need for more diplomacy, those in favor of a new round of engagement with the Islamist regime had a strong position. But the decision of the Europeans to tell Israel in advance of the Geneva gathering that an “interim agreement” that could conceivably scale back sanctions may happen is a sign that there is more going on here than just giving diplomacy a last chance. The talk about accepting Iranian promises to cut down on their enrichment of uranium and easing sanctions in return is not merely weakening the West’s negotiating position. It is a clear sign that Rouhani’s outreach efforts are causing the Europeans to adopt a policy of appeasement that may well lead to the realization of a nuclear threat they have long feared.

President Obama and other administration figures have defended the decision to revive the P5+1 talks as merely a case of the West doing its due diligence to see if diplomacy deserved another chance after several years of humiliating failures. In theory, that’s a reasonable point of view. But with European diplomats already warning Israel that their governments are prepared to accept a deal that stops way short of ending all Iranian enrichment of uranium, the effort is taking on the appearance of a decision to back away from pressure on Iran rather than merely a last gasp of diplomacy before sanctions are tightened and the threat of force is contemplated.

The Iranian proposal strikes a familiar chord with those who have been following the farcical series of negotiations with Iran that started more than a decade ago. The Iranians have often talked about accepting limits on how much uranium they could enrich or even about agreeing to transport some of it out of the country only to always renege at the last minute. That was the tactic when Rouhani headed his country’s nuclear negotiating team and he has bragged about his success in hoodwinking the West on the issue.

It is bad enough if President Obama and his European partners allow themselves to be sucked into another dead-end process that could drag on for months if not longer and therefore give Iran another year to get closer to its nuclear goal. But if, as the Euros are signaling, the P5+1 group is prepared to accept a deal that will allow Iran to retain its nuclear capability–albeit with restrictions that will supposedly make it impossible for them to build a bomb–the problem is even bigger than that.

A decision to leave Iran’s nuclear program, and even its enrichment process, in place will be justified as a measure that will still prevent them from getting a bomb. But as the West learned to its sorrow when dealing with a far less powerful or dangerous opponent like North Korea, such agreements can be evaded. Anything less than a complete shutdown of the enrichment process is more or less a guarantee that, like the North Koreans, sooner or later Iran will be able to get its bomb.

Just as serious is the possibility of loosening sanctions in exchange for such unsatisfactory halfway measures.

It should be remembered that it took years for Congress to pressure President Obama into agreeing to and then implementing tough sanctions on Iran as well as years for him to persuade the international community to back watered-down versions of the U.S. sanctions program. Once they are loosened, it will be difficult if not completely impossible for them to be revived. The Europeans have little appetite for this conflict and are desperate to find a way out of it. The same may well be true of President Obama, despite the tough rhetoric he continues to employ against Iran. But even if he doesn’t buy into the Iranian offer, if it results in a breakup of the West’s solid front on Iran, the Iranians may be home free either way.

Neither the president nor the Europeans wish to be accused of waving the white flag on Iran. But neither do they appear to have the will to resist the temptation offered by Rouhani’s PR efforts and to instead keep their promises on Iran. Whether next week’s talks result in a weakening of sanctions in exchange for Iranian lies or merely the wasting of more weeks and months, the scene appears to be set for Western appeasement of the ayatollahs.

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Iran’s False Charm Already Paying Off

Iran’s charm offensive is already paying diplomatic dividends, but its supreme leader is signaling that he is already starting to pull the plug on the supposed opening for nuclear diplomacy. Iran’s foreign minister told a pro-regime newspaper today that Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was none too pleased with Western favorite Hassan Rouhani for the new president’s phone call with President Obama as well as his meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry last month in New York. Khamenei, who is the real ruler of Iran, apparently thinks Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and Rouhani exceeded their authority in the chats even though neither conceded much to American leaders who appeared desperate to seize the chance to reopen talks with the Islamist regime.

The exact meaning of Khamenei’s signal to the so-called moderates may be debated. But it repeats a familiar pattern in which Iran tricks the West into wasting time on diplomacy only to make it clear later that no deal is in the offing. Yet despite this, Western nations still appear to be doubling down on their willingness to believe in Rouhani’s supposed promise of moderation. Britain appears to be renewing diplomatic ties with Iran two years after severing relations in the wake of an attack on their Tehran embassy. And the United Nations has astonishingly named the nuclear scofflaw as special rapporteur of the United Nations General Assembly’s Committee on Disarmament and International Security.

Added to the prospect of the Obama administration’s eager desire to give engagement with Iran another try leading to more months of negotiations, these developments show just how much Rouhani has already achieved with a charm offensive that Khamenei is unlikely to bear fruit with actual progress on the nuclear issue.

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Iran’s charm offensive is already paying diplomatic dividends, but its supreme leader is signaling that he is already starting to pull the plug on the supposed opening for nuclear diplomacy. Iran’s foreign minister told a pro-regime newspaper today that Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was none too pleased with Western favorite Hassan Rouhani for the new president’s phone call with President Obama as well as his meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry last month in New York. Khamenei, who is the real ruler of Iran, apparently thinks Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and Rouhani exceeded their authority in the chats even though neither conceded much to American leaders who appeared desperate to seize the chance to reopen talks with the Islamist regime.

The exact meaning of Khamenei’s signal to the so-called moderates may be debated. But it repeats a familiar pattern in which Iran tricks the West into wasting time on diplomacy only to make it clear later that no deal is in the offing. Yet despite this, Western nations still appear to be doubling down on their willingness to believe in Rouhani’s supposed promise of moderation. Britain appears to be renewing diplomatic ties with Iran two years after severing relations in the wake of an attack on their Tehran embassy. And the United Nations has astonishingly named the nuclear scofflaw as special rapporteur of the United Nations General Assembly’s Committee on Disarmament and International Security.

Added to the prospect of the Obama administration’s eager desire to give engagement with Iran another try leading to more months of negotiations, these developments show just how much Rouhani has already achieved with a charm offensive that Khamenei is unlikely to bear fruit with actual progress on the nuclear issue.

Khamenei’s signal that he isn’t going to let Rouhani go too far may seem to be counter-intuitive given all the talk of a new spirit in Iran has already accomplished. But it makes sense when you consider that Rouhani’s own positions on the key nuclear issue are little different from those of Khamenei despite the attempts of Westerners to convince themselves otherwise. As Jeffrey Goldberg wrote yesterday in Bloomberg, Rouhani “is proud of the work he did to advance his country’s nuclear program — and also of his efforts to stymie Western attempts to stop that work.”

Goldberg noted Rouhani’s past role in tricking the West on nuclear negotiations that he bragged about earlier this year. But the deceptive nature of Rouhani’s moderation that was on display at the U.N. still has not penetrated the consciousness of the Obama administration or its Western allies even though these facts are not exactly a secret. Yet few appear to be listening to such warnings or those of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who again said today that any deal with Iran must ensure the end of Iran’s uranium enrichment as well its plutonium program.

Western negotiators have been offering Iran deals which will enable them to keep their nuclear program for years, but Tehran has always preferred to preserve its ability to build a weapon rather than to accept and thus end economic sanctions. The Rouhani charm offensive sets up the West for a repeat of this farce even as Khamenei is making it clear that he will never give up the regime’s nuclear ambitions.

The bottom line is that while the West negotiates with itself in order to strengthen Iranian “moderates” against the supposed “hardliners,” the regime buys itself more time to get closer to its nuclear goal. Though Khamenei and Rouhani may appear to be at cross-purposes, they are working together to advance their common nuclear agenda. The only question is how long it will take President Obama to catch on.

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Thanks to Obama, Iran Doesn’t Fear Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed the United Nations General Assembly today and drew attention to the obvious fraud that is the Iranian charm offensive. After a week in which the international community and much of the foreign-policy establishment cheered on by the mainstream media celebrated new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as a moderate who offers a chance to end his country’s nuclear standoff with the West, Netanyahu tried to play the spoiler at the party. Yet while his arguments detailing the record of both Rouhani and the despotic regime he serves were unanswerable, his speech didn’t get much more applause than his much lampooned cartoon bomb “red line” speech got last year from the same podium. Nor is there much reason for the Iranians to believe his threats about Israel being prepared to launch a strike on its own to stop the nuclear threat. Last week’s decision by President Obama to reach out to Rouhani and to initiate yet another diplomatic process virtually ensures that Iran can laugh at Netanyahu’s vow to act alone if necessary.

Though Netanyahu and President Obama seemed to be on the same page on Iran when they met at the White House yesterday, there’s little doubt that Israel’s isolation on the issue is greater than it ever has been. The bottom line here is that as long as Obama is prepared to engage with the Iranians, no matter how transparent the falsity of Rouhani’s position or how unlikely new talks will be to produce any sort of nuclear deal, Israel is effectively disarmed. As I wrote yesterday, a new round of talks between the West and Iran is no more likely to succeed than all of the ones that preceded it. As Netanyahu said in his speech, Rouhani has bragged about his own role in Iran’s clever negotiating strategy that suckers the West into thinking they have a deal while Tehran wins more time to get closer to its nuclear goal. More such dead-end talks will enable Iran to continue to run out the clock until they can achieve their nuclear ambition.

But like his efforts to debunk the Rouhani-as-moderate theme, it’s not clear there is any reason for the ayatollahs to worry much about Netanyahu’s vows about never allowing a regime dedicated to Israel’s destruction to go nuclear.

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Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed the United Nations General Assembly today and drew attention to the obvious fraud that is the Iranian charm offensive. After a week in which the international community and much of the foreign-policy establishment cheered on by the mainstream media celebrated new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as a moderate who offers a chance to end his country’s nuclear standoff with the West, Netanyahu tried to play the spoiler at the party. Yet while his arguments detailing the record of both Rouhani and the despotic regime he serves were unanswerable, his speech didn’t get much more applause than his much lampooned cartoon bomb “red line” speech got last year from the same podium. Nor is there much reason for the Iranians to believe his threats about Israel being prepared to launch a strike on its own to stop the nuclear threat. Last week’s decision by President Obama to reach out to Rouhani and to initiate yet another diplomatic process virtually ensures that Iran can laugh at Netanyahu’s vow to act alone if necessary.

Though Netanyahu and President Obama seemed to be on the same page on Iran when they met at the White House yesterday, there’s little doubt that Israel’s isolation on the issue is greater than it ever has been. The bottom line here is that as long as Obama is prepared to engage with the Iranians, no matter how transparent the falsity of Rouhani’s position or how unlikely new talks will be to produce any sort of nuclear deal, Israel is effectively disarmed. As I wrote yesterday, a new round of talks between the West and Iran is no more likely to succeed than all of the ones that preceded it. As Netanyahu said in his speech, Rouhani has bragged about his own role in Iran’s clever negotiating strategy that suckers the West into thinking they have a deal while Tehran wins more time to get closer to its nuclear goal. More such dead-end talks will enable Iran to continue to run out the clock until they can achieve their nuclear ambition.

But like his efforts to debunk the Rouhani-as-moderate theme, it’s not clear there is any reason for the ayatollahs to worry much about Netanyahu’s vows about never allowing a regime dedicated to Israel’s destruction to go nuclear.

Netanyahu’s analysis of what Rouhani tried to do in New York was accurate. Though some credulous Western journalists have taken to speaking about him as if he is a latter-day Bobby Kennedy, his involvement in all of the Islamist regime’s outrages—including terrorism—during the last three decades is a matter of record. That some media outlets were even prepared to buy into the false story line that he had denounced the Holocaust was proof of how eager many Americans are to believe any lie so long as it absolves them of the obligation to do something about Iran.

That Rouhani lied on the UN podium last week about Iran’s nuclear program is not really in dispute. While experts differ as to how far away they are from nuclear capability, there is little dispute that the growing stockpiles of enriched uranium as well as their plutonium option is bringing Iran closer to the moment when they will have a bomb that will destabilize the region and threaten Israel’s existence.

But while America is talking with Iran, Israel cannot attack no matter what Netanyahu says, and he knows it. The prime minister has wisely sought to minimize conflict with President Obama but by now he has to understand that the president has no intention of confronting Iran and will always seek to avoid having to make good on his own promises to stop Tehran.

So what alternatives does Israel have at this point to waiting for Obama to come to his senses? Sadly, there are none that make any sense that I can think of.

The Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens ponders this question in his column today and I agree with his analysis of the Obama administration’s intentions. As he writes, Israelis who think Obama will ever strike Iran are “fooling themselves.” But I disagree when he says that what Israel must do in response to the president’s inaction involves “downgrading relations with Washington.”

It was one thing for Netanyahu’s predecessor to ignore American advice to accept a Syrian nuclear program back in 2007 and take it out in an air attack, an example Stephens rightly cites as a correct decision on the part of Ehud Olmert. But Iran’s nuclear program presents a far more difficult target. It cannot be neatly made to disappear with a single simple surgical strike. Eliminating this threat would require an air campaign that would present enormous logistical and military problems that would strain the resources of the United States, let alone those of Israel. But even if Israel was capable of eliminating the Iranian threat on its own, doing so while the United States is engaged in negotiations with Tehran simply isn’t going to happen.

Israel can and should say no to the United States when its security is at stake. Nor should it, as Stephens says, worry much about gaining international approval. That is never going to happen because of factors that are rooted more in anti-Semitism than any disapproval of Israeli policies.

Yet as frustrating as America’s dalliance with Iran may be, cutting itself loose from its alliance with the United States isn’t an option for Israel any more than ridiculous proposals being floated elsewhere for Jerusalem to upgrade its ties with China in the hope of creating some positive leverage over Washington. American support for the Jewish state is embedded in this country’s political DNA and is more proof of American exceptionalism. It cannot be duplicated anywhere else on the globe.

Stephens is right when he says the current situation leaves Israel reliant on Iranian hard-liners to sabotage any nuclear deal. That may not be much of a strategy, but it may prove true since it is unlikely that even so-called moderates like Rouhani have any intention of giving up Iran’s nuclear program.

But until the moment when the U.S. administration wakes up to the Rouhani ruse, Israel has little choice but to stand by and wait and worry. So long as they’ve got Obama swallowing Rouhani’s bait, the Iranians have little to fear from Israel. That’s bad news for Netanyahu and Israel. But it is just as sobering for Americans who realize that despite Obama’s tough rhetoric about Iran, what the administration is doing is bringing us closer to the day when Tehran will go nuclear.

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Iran Danger Is Delay, Not Deal

President Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu today and reportedly sought to reassure him that the Iranian charm offensive wasn’t working. Despite the way the administration welcomed the alleged moderation of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and its determined efforts to initiate some form of dialogue with Tehran—Rouhani refused to meet or shake hands with the president in New York last week but deigned to accept a phone call from Obama before he left New York—the president is trying to convince Netanyahu that he isn’t budging from his pledge that Iran won’t be allowed to develop nuclear weapons and he won’t be fooled by Iran’s negotiating strategies. Despite expressing a desire for accelerated talks with the Iranians, the White House and the State Department are also trying to calm down Israelis and others who rightly see the way much of the mainstream media swoon for Rouhani as indicative of a desire to appease Tehran.

But the problem here isn’t just the obsequious manner with which the administration has pursued Iran but the cost of the diplomatic process they are trying to reboot. Iran’s intransigence on the nuclear issue—openly expressed by Rouhani—may well make a deal impossible. Iran has had many such offers in the past decade, including some that were highly favorable to the Islamist regime that would have enabled them to go on enriching uranium and to keep up the pretense that this activity was aimed at peaceful uses of atomic energy and always turned them down in the end. It is also possible that a principled and tough-minded American negotiating strategy would eventually expose the Rouhani initiative as a fraud.

But by going down the garden path with Iran again, President Obama is both buying time and lending much-needed credibility to an Islamic regime that deserves none. In doing so, he will make it even more likely that the Iranians will be able to reach their nuclear goal and is undermining support for any future action that would hold them accountable for their actions. Even if the talks fail, by falling prey to the Rouhani gambit, the president has already handed Iran a crucial victory.

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President Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu today and reportedly sought to reassure him that the Iranian charm offensive wasn’t working. Despite the way the administration welcomed the alleged moderation of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and its determined efforts to initiate some form of dialogue with Tehran—Rouhani refused to meet or shake hands with the president in New York last week but deigned to accept a phone call from Obama before he left New York—the president is trying to convince Netanyahu that he isn’t budging from his pledge that Iran won’t be allowed to develop nuclear weapons and he won’t be fooled by Iran’s negotiating strategies. Despite expressing a desire for accelerated talks with the Iranians, the White House and the State Department are also trying to calm down Israelis and others who rightly see the way much of the mainstream media swoon for Rouhani as indicative of a desire to appease Tehran.

But the problem here isn’t just the obsequious manner with which the administration has pursued Iran but the cost of the diplomatic process they are trying to reboot. Iran’s intransigence on the nuclear issue—openly expressed by Rouhani—may well make a deal impossible. Iran has had many such offers in the past decade, including some that were highly favorable to the Islamist regime that would have enabled them to go on enriching uranium and to keep up the pretense that this activity was aimed at peaceful uses of atomic energy and always turned them down in the end. It is also possible that a principled and tough-minded American negotiating strategy would eventually expose the Rouhani initiative as a fraud.

But by going down the garden path with Iran again, President Obama is both buying time and lending much-needed credibility to an Islamic regime that deserves none. In doing so, he will make it even more likely that the Iranians will be able to reach their nuclear goal and is undermining support for any future action that would hold them accountable for their actions. Even if the talks fail, by falling prey to the Rouhani gambit, the president has already handed Iran a crucial victory.

It is entirely plausible to argue, as Aaron David Miller does in Foreign Policy today, that it would be very difficult if not impossible for President Obama to get away with an accord with Iran that would enable the Iranians to continue on their nuclear path. After the Syria fiasco where his indecisiveness led him to hand a victory to Russia and its ally Bashar Assad, the president can’t afford to “play the fool” on Iran. He has staked his credibility on the issue. Given his domestic political problems and the growing signs that he is becoming a lame duck, Obama would also be foolish to pick another fight with Israel and its supporters. Moreover, even with the press and much of the foreign-policy establishment cheering the idea of backing away from confrontation with Iran, as Miller notes, “the mullahs aren’t going to charm anyone for very long, let alone transform public attitudes in Israel or America without significant and tangible deliverables.”

So what’s wrong with making nice with Rouhani and giving diplomacy another try? Plenty.

It should first be understood what Iran is seeking to accomplish. Their primary goal is to separate the U.S. from Europe on the nuclear issue. The Europeans have always been more eager to compromise with Iran than the U.S., and if they can weaken international support for the economic sanctions that were belatedly implemented by President Obama, they will do so. They also want to drive a wedge between Obama and the Israelis.

Equally important is that after repeatedly demonstrating their unwillingness to negotiate in good faith, the Iranians’ charm offensive looks like it will gain them more precious time to get closer to their nuclear goal. The Iranians are past masters at drawing out diplomatic proceedings and one should expect that the talks that Obama and Kerry say must be “swift” would undoubtedly drag on for many months and perhaps longer than that, with no guarantee of a successful outcome. The president is already prepared to wait until mid-October for an Iranian response to his outreach. That will be followed by more delays that will lead us into 2014 and beyond.

Then there is also the damage the willingness to buy into Rouhani’s faux moderation does to the Western consensus about eventually holding Iran accountable. His defenders argue that by giving diplomacy more chances, he will strengthen his ability to increase sanctions or even use force once the initiative is seen to have failed. But in the world of Barack Obama, diplomacy never really fails even if that is the only rational conclusion to be drawn from events. Each diplomatic failure will lead to another try that will also fail with the only result being that more time will be wasted, just as the president wasted his first five years in office on tactics that played into Tehran’s hands. Moreover, having allowed Rouhani to get away with playing the moderate even when it is obvious that this is a ruse, the president feeds the perception that Iran is the victim of Western pressure rather than a sponsor of terrorism that is seeking to expand the reach of its tyrannical regime.

So even if an administration desperate for a compromise solution is unlikely to get one from Rouhani, the charm offensive is still working very nicely to achieve Iranian goals. The danger here is not so much a deal but the delays that will bring us that much closer to an Iranian bomb. 

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Rouhani’s Holocaust Weasel Words

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani may have snubbed President Obama yesterday but almost everyone is still giving him full credit for not being Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The West’s favorite “moderate” mullah met with a gaggle of liberal mainstream media types Wednesday morning for a mostly off-the-record gathering and, despite being unwilling to pander much to their sensibilities, still left them thinking, in the words of New Yorker editor David Remnick, “That at least on the surface this is somebody who above all is interested in reversing the really consequential damage to the economy that sanctions have wrought over time.”

I’ve no doubt that is true, as the conceit of Rouhani’s mission is apparently to persuade the West that because he isn’t a raving lunatic like his predecessor Ahmadinejad, that should be enough to earn Iran the world’s trust. And the chief proof of this is his willingness to say that it was a bad thing that the Nazis killed Jews. At Remnick’s prodding, Rouhani said as much today. As Politico reports:

Toward the end of the meeting, Remnick, who had sparred with Ahmadinejad in past meetings, demanded to know if Rouhani would unequivocally reject his predecessor’s denial of the Holocaust.

Through an interpreter, Rouhani told Remnick and the other journalists that he condemned the “massacre” of Jews that took place during World War II but would leave it to historians to decide how many Jews had been killed.

While stopping short of condemning the Holocaust outright, Rouhani left Remnick with the impression that he was serious about improving Iran’s relationship with the West.

That’s nice and no doubt Rouhani’s dignified manner and trademark white turban are a big improvement over Ahmadinejad’s MAD magazine style charm, but if we’re really interested in the question of repudiating Holocaust denial, Rouhani’s response doesn’t quite cut it. Nor does his equally cagey answer to a similar question posed by CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in which he segued from a pro-forma condemnation of the “taking of human life, whether that life is Jewish life, Christian or Muslim” into saying his non-support of Nazi genocide shouldn’t be interpreted as being willing to recognize living Jews have rights, since that “does not mean that on the other hand you can say Nazis committed crimes against a group, now, therefore, they must usurp the land of another group and occupy it.” The point is, if you are agnostic about the scale of the Holocaust, you are, in effect, a denier. If you are against killing Jews but unwilling to grant that they may have rights to a country or the right to defend it, your supposedly moderate good intentions are meaningless.

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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani may have snubbed President Obama yesterday but almost everyone is still giving him full credit for not being Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The West’s favorite “moderate” mullah met with a gaggle of liberal mainstream media types Wednesday morning for a mostly off-the-record gathering and, despite being unwilling to pander much to their sensibilities, still left them thinking, in the words of New Yorker editor David Remnick, “That at least on the surface this is somebody who above all is interested in reversing the really consequential damage to the economy that sanctions have wrought over time.”

I’ve no doubt that is true, as the conceit of Rouhani’s mission is apparently to persuade the West that because he isn’t a raving lunatic like his predecessor Ahmadinejad, that should be enough to earn Iran the world’s trust. And the chief proof of this is his willingness to say that it was a bad thing that the Nazis killed Jews. At Remnick’s prodding, Rouhani said as much today. As Politico reports:

Toward the end of the meeting, Remnick, who had sparred with Ahmadinejad in past meetings, demanded to know if Rouhani would unequivocally reject his predecessor’s denial of the Holocaust.

Through an interpreter, Rouhani told Remnick and the other journalists that he condemned the “massacre” of Jews that took place during World War II but would leave it to historians to decide how many Jews had been killed.

While stopping short of condemning the Holocaust outright, Rouhani left Remnick with the impression that he was serious about improving Iran’s relationship with the West.

That’s nice and no doubt Rouhani’s dignified manner and trademark white turban are a big improvement over Ahmadinejad’s MAD magazine style charm, but if we’re really interested in the question of repudiating Holocaust denial, Rouhani’s response doesn’t quite cut it. Nor does his equally cagey answer to a similar question posed by CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in which he segued from a pro-forma condemnation of the “taking of human life, whether that life is Jewish life, Christian or Muslim” into saying his non-support of Nazi genocide shouldn’t be interpreted as being willing to recognize living Jews have rights, since that “does not mean that on the other hand you can say Nazis committed crimes against a group, now, therefore, they must usurp the land of another group and occupy it.” The point is, if you are agnostic about the scale of the Holocaust, you are, in effect, a denier. If you are against killing Jews but unwilling to grant that they may have rights to a country or the right to defend it, your supposedly moderate good intentions are meaningless.

That these stands are calculated to convince Western elites that Rouhani is a decent person while still giving him cover at home is a tribute to the cleverness of the Iranian tactic. After all, contrary to some other statements uttered during the charm offensive, there is more to Iranian anti-Semitism than just Ahmadinejad’s personal obsessions. Iranian TV often broadcasts material that merges the two topics by claiming that Jews have exaggerated the extent of the Holocaust in order to “steal” Palestine from the Arabs and hoodwink the United States out of money. Rouhani’s mention of the doubts about how many Jews died is a signal to Iranians and other Islamists that he is very much on the same page as Ahmadinejad but knows how to talk to Westerners.

Seen in that context, far from Rouhani’s statements being a measure of his sanity or moderation, they are, in fact, an indicator that he is very much part of the same Islamist mentality that produced Ahmadinejad and his boss Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. What is going on here is a carefully calculated ruse that is, even after Rouhani’s snub of Obama, working well to disarm the West of any sense of outrage about Tehran’s pursuit of nuclear capability.

That the mainstream media is willing to go along with this game shows just how uncomfortable many of them are with the need to honestly confront the issue of Iran’s nuclear capability and the transparently dishonest manner in which it has negotiated with the West for over a decade. 

UPDATE:

It turns out that Rouhani’s so-called condemnation of the Holocaust is even flimsier than we thought. After CNN broadcast its interview with Rouhani conducted by Christiane Amanpour, the FARS News Agency condemned their translation of his remarks about the Holocaust as largely a fabrication. The official organ of the Iranian government provided an exact translation of what he said and matched it with what CNN broadcast and then published on their website. When the two are compared it is clear that the network expanded on what he said to help convey the impression that he was condemning Holocaust denial when it is clear that he did no such thing.

Here’s the CNN account:

CNN Question: “One of the things your predecessor (President Ahmadinejad) used to do from this very platform was deny(ing) the holocaust and pretend(ing) it was a myth, I want to know you, your position on the holocaust, do you accept what it was, and what was it?”

CNN’s Translation: “I’ve said before that I am not a historian and then, when it comes to speaking of the dimensions of the Holocaust, it is the historians that should reflect on it. But in general I can tell you that any crime that happens in history against humanity, including the crime that Nazis committed towards the Jews as well as non-Jews is reprehensible and condemnable. Whatever criminality they committed against the Jews, we condemn, the taking of human life is contemptible, it makes no difference whether that life is Jewish life, Christian or Muslim, for us it is the same, but taking the human life is something our religion rejects but this doesn’t mean that on the other hand you can say Nazis committed crime against a group now therefore, they must usurp the land of another group and occupy it. This too is an act that should be condemned. There should be an even-handed discussion”.

Here’s what Rouhani actually said:

“I have said before that I am not a historian and historians should specify, state and explain the aspects of historical events, but generally we fully condemn any kind of crime committed against humanity throughout the history, including the crime committed by the Nazis both against the Jews and non-Jews, the same way that if today any crime is committed against any nation or any religion or any people or any belief, we condemn that crime and genocide. Therefore, what the Nazis did is condemned, but the aspects that you talk about, clarification of these aspects is a duty of the historians and researchers, I am not a history scholar.”

While the two have similarities, there is no doubt that the news outlet airbrushed Rouhani’s comments to the point where they are far more acceptable for a Western audience. The actual remarks make it clear that Rouhani is as much of an agnostic about the extent of the Holocaust as Ahmadinejad. After all, Rouhani’s predecessor never said that no Jews were killed but said it was vastly exaggerated, the false argument that all Holocaust deniers try to make.

It is up to CNN to explain this attempt to falsify the content of the interview that goes beyond the usual discrepancies that often pop up in translations and crosses over into editorial malfeasance.

Added together with the other remarks uttered by Rouhani, this makes the claims of those who say Rouhani represents a genuine change in Iran even less credible than before.

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Rouhani Treats Obama Like a Chump

Yesterday, President Obama was left with egg on his face. Administration officials had been telling the press for days that the president would meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during the opening of the General Assembly of the United Nations. But when it came time for the two to come together or to bump into each other and shake hands in an accidentally-on-purpose arranged encounter, the Iranians said nothing doing. The Iranians told the press that it was “too complicated” for the meeting to take place and administration officials were reduced to explaining the snub by saying that it would have caused political problems for Rouhani at home. Combined with Rouhani’s speech to the General Assembly of the U.N. that was something less than the olive branch that those hoping for a rapprochement with the Islamic Republic were expecting, the Iranians sent the administration an unmistakable message. If you want to appease us, don’t think we’ll make it easy on you.

There are many good reasons to distrust the Iranian charm offensive and Jeffrey Goldberg gives a few in his column at Bloomberg today. Rouhani’s goal is to lift the international sanctions on Iran while preserving its right to go on enriching uranium (as well as developing a plutonium option) and supporting terrorism around the globe, not to help Barack Obama bring peace to the Middle East. But yesterday’s events didn’t tell us as much about whether Rouhani is a sincere advocate of change as it did about the way the Iranians think about President Obama. The president’s apologists like Goldberg believe the Rouhani gambit we’ve been debating recently is the product of Obama’s toughness, much as they also cling to the illusion that the debacle in Syria stems from the president’s strength rather than weakness. But Rouhani’s behavior in New York yesterday showed that he did not come to the UN as a supplicant but as someone who knows that he has Obama just where he wants him. By demonstrating that he isn’t a cheap date but must instead be wooed by the West with concessions, Rouhani gave us a good idea of the course of the next round of negotiations that the United States is about to embark upon with Iran. Instead of being eager to embrace Obama in order to prove their desire for diplomacy and to avert the threat of Western force being employed to end their nuclear dreams, the Iranians know that Obama has already swallowed the bait. This wasn’t the first time Rouhani had humiliated the West since he is a veteran of past deceptive diplomatic encounters, but we also know it won’t be the last.

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Yesterday, President Obama was left with egg on his face. Administration officials had been telling the press for days that the president would meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during the opening of the General Assembly of the United Nations. But when it came time for the two to come together or to bump into each other and shake hands in an accidentally-on-purpose arranged encounter, the Iranians said nothing doing. The Iranians told the press that it was “too complicated” for the meeting to take place and administration officials were reduced to explaining the snub by saying that it would have caused political problems for Rouhani at home. Combined with Rouhani’s speech to the General Assembly of the U.N. that was something less than the olive branch that those hoping for a rapprochement with the Islamic Republic were expecting, the Iranians sent the administration an unmistakable message. If you want to appease us, don’t think we’ll make it easy on you.

There are many good reasons to distrust the Iranian charm offensive and Jeffrey Goldberg gives a few in his column at Bloomberg today. Rouhani’s goal is to lift the international sanctions on Iran while preserving its right to go on enriching uranium (as well as developing a plutonium option) and supporting terrorism around the globe, not to help Barack Obama bring peace to the Middle East. But yesterday’s events didn’t tell us as much about whether Rouhani is a sincere advocate of change as it did about the way the Iranians think about President Obama. The president’s apologists like Goldberg believe the Rouhani gambit we’ve been debating recently is the product of Obama’s toughness, much as they also cling to the illusion that the debacle in Syria stems from the president’s strength rather than weakness. But Rouhani’s behavior in New York yesterday showed that he did not come to the UN as a supplicant but as someone who knows that he has Obama just where he wants him. By demonstrating that he isn’t a cheap date but must instead be wooed by the West with concessions, Rouhani gave us a good idea of the course of the next round of negotiations that the United States is about to embark upon with Iran. Instead of being eager to embrace Obama in order to prove their desire for diplomacy and to avert the threat of Western force being employed to end their nuclear dreams, the Iranians know that Obama has already swallowed the bait. This wasn’t the first time Rouhani had humiliated the West since he is a veteran of past deceptive diplomatic encounters, but we also know it won’t be the last.

The White House’s disappointment at Rouhani being unwilling to shake hands with the president was absurd enough. But even the New York Times was unable to spin the Iranian’s speech to the GA as anything but a disappointment to those who have invested so heavily in the notion that he represents an opportunity for genuine change in Iran.

Rouhani’s address can only be seen as “moderate” when compared to the wacky rants of his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He didn’t deny the Holocaust nor openly threaten Israel with destruction. But he gave little satisfaction to those expecting him to inaugurate a new age of understanding with a lengthy litany of complaints about the West as well as an almost impenetrable barrage of double talk about Syria, nukes, and terrorism.

Rouhani’s appeal for “tolerance” rang false, coming as it did from a government that persecutes religious minorities and continues to be a font of anti-Semitic incitement aimed at Israel and its supporters. The same can be said of his denunciation of terrorism, coming as it did from an official of a government that is the leading state sponsor of terror in the world.

Iran’s real boss, Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was wise to back Rouhani’s play since the charm offensive has given the Obama administration the excuse it needed to begin the process of backing away from its promise to confront Iran on the nuclear issue. But the snub and the cold speech show they have no intention of making it easy for Obama to appease them. The Iranians show every sign of understanding that the way to draw out the next round of talks is to play hard to get and make the Americans bid against themselves in an effort to entice them to play ball. By portraying Rouhani as being squeezed by hardliner rivals, they have provided the justification for Western concessions and excuses that will be portrayed as necessary in order to help him.

For five years the Iranians have been acting as if they thought President Obama was a paper tiger whose threats should be discounted. But yesterday they showed they think he isn’t just weak but a chump who can be played and reeled in slowly as they buy more time to achieve their nuclear ambitions.

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Obama Talks From Weakness, Not Strength

After flubbing his plan for an attack on Syria and being trapped into a Russian-sponsored process designed to preserve the Assad regime, President Obama doesn’t have much foreign-policy credibility these days. But what little he has left is about to be spent on a new diplomatic initiative with Iran that will apparently be kicked off this week in New York with a face-to-face meeting between the leader of the free world and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Perhaps even more than Obama’s effective handing off of responsibility for Syria’s chemical weapons to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the appointment with Rouhani will make it clear that this administration has no appetite for a confrontation with its enemies, signaling a new era in the Middle East in which the tyrants of Tehran and Damascus and their terrorist auxiliaries need not fear the United States.

That is a conclusion that the president’s defenders reject absolutely. They claim that whatever the provenance of the Russian proposal or the lack of “style” points (to use the president’s own words) in his fumbling approach to Congress on Syria, if it results in Assad losing his chemical weapons it is still a good thing. They argue that Obama’s inability to pull the trigger on Syria will have no impact on Iran’s evaluation of American intentions on its nuclear ambitions. Further, they say the U.S. has nothing to lose in talking to Iran and much to gain, since failure in negotiations will simply strengthen the president’s hand when he then decides to use force.

If the administration was operating from a position of strength and with its intentions to uphold its interests undoubted, then these arguments might make sense. But the problem with both the Syrian fiasco and the opening to Iran is that it is no secret that the president has agreed to them out of weakness, not strength. What’s more, both the Syrians and the Iranians know it. The United States may be still be the world’s sole superpower and Syria and Iran midgets by comparison. But so long as these countries and their Russian friend know America is led by a man who choked when he could have struck Syria and is desperate for excuses to avoid the confrontation he has long threatened Iran with, they know who has the upper hand in talks.

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After flubbing his plan for an attack on Syria and being trapped into a Russian-sponsored process designed to preserve the Assad regime, President Obama doesn’t have much foreign-policy credibility these days. But what little he has left is about to be spent on a new diplomatic initiative with Iran that will apparently be kicked off this week in New York with a face-to-face meeting between the leader of the free world and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Perhaps even more than Obama’s effective handing off of responsibility for Syria’s chemical weapons to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the appointment with Rouhani will make it clear that this administration has no appetite for a confrontation with its enemies, signaling a new era in the Middle East in which the tyrants of Tehran and Damascus and their terrorist auxiliaries need not fear the United States.

That is a conclusion that the president’s defenders reject absolutely. They claim that whatever the provenance of the Russian proposal or the lack of “style” points (to use the president’s own words) in his fumbling approach to Congress on Syria, if it results in Assad losing his chemical weapons it is still a good thing. They argue that Obama’s inability to pull the trigger on Syria will have no impact on Iran’s evaluation of American intentions on its nuclear ambitions. Further, they say the U.S. has nothing to lose in talking to Iran and much to gain, since failure in negotiations will simply strengthen the president’s hand when he then decides to use force.

If the administration was operating from a position of strength and with its intentions to uphold its interests undoubted, then these arguments might make sense. But the problem with both the Syrian fiasco and the opening to Iran is that it is no secret that the president has agreed to them out of weakness, not strength. What’s more, both the Syrians and the Iranians know it. The United States may be still be the world’s sole superpower and Syria and Iran midgets by comparison. But so long as these countries and their Russian friend know America is led by a man who choked when he could have struck Syria and is desperate for excuses to avoid the confrontation he has long threatened Iran with, they know who has the upper hand in talks.

Jeffrey Goldberg remains one of the more sensible of Obama’s defenders and he has rightly derided the president’s record on Syria as “disturbing.” He also rightly puts down Rouhani’s charm offensive as “nothing more than public relations until proven otherwise.” But he also continues to cling to the notion that what has brought about the unsatisfactory deal with Russia on Syria and enticed Rouhani to come calling was Obama’s “toughness.” But for any objective observer to categorize the U.S. stance in the Middle East as “tough” requires us to come up with a new definition for the word.

Goldberg concedes Obama looked bad on Syria but still insists that his threat of force made any deal possible. But what happened was damaging not just because it has resulted in what looks to be U.S. acquiescence to Assad remaining in power indefinitely but because it showed that the president wouldn’t follow through once he had threatened force. In other words, the world now knows the president lacks the will to act on his own authority and is also sadly aware that there is a bipartisan congressional majority opposing any use of force. That’s a worse blow to U.S. credibility than if he had never issued any threats at all. The notion that Obama will now be empowered to strike if the Syrians and Russians thwart accountability on chemical weapons is absurd. They know very well that no matter what John Kerry says, the administration has moved on and will never attack Syria.

As for Iran, Goldberg also gives Obama credit for imposing tough sanctions on Iran that has created pressure on the regime. He also thinks the team of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu playing “bad cop” to Obama’s “ambivalent cop” can force Iran to make a nuclear deal that will work. But the record of the last five years in which Obama’s actions have never matched his rhetoric has convinced the real boss in Tehran—Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei—that what was needed was a soft voice to entice Obama into endless negotiations, not the cartoonlike harshness of Rouhani’s predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. By meeting with Rouhani, Obama is signaling that he is falling for this tactic. But rather than Rouhani being on the spot as Goldberg insists, it is actually President Obama who will feel the need to make concessions to keep the talks going so as to avoid being put in a position where he will be forced to act.

Iran wants sanctions lifted, but there is no evidence that the supreme leader is the one who thinks he’s in a corner. The ayatollahs have already observed that the one place Obama never wants to be is in a corner where he is forced to back up his threats. Meeting with Rouhani and treating this more presentable thug as an equal and a negotiating partner will send a signal throughout the Middle East that Iran is emerging from its diplomatic isolation. Combined with its triumph in Syria where, along with the Russians, it has saved Assad, that allows the Islamist regime to believe it can string out the West for as long as it needs to achieve its nuclear ambitions with no real fear that the U.S. will ever pull the plug on the talks or back up its threats.

Goldberg is right when he says that the only constant in the world is change. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned it is that President Obama and his foreign-policy team are incapable of reacting to the shifting sands of the Middle East or to present their positions to the world in a way that makes dangerous regimes fear us. Whatever follows from these diplomatic initiatives will be the result of the president’s weakness, not his strength.

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Will Bibi Trade Iran for Palestine?

On Sunday, 17 members of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s governing coalition sent him a letter making it clear they want no part of an Oslo rerun which would involve further surrender of territory and the creation of an independent Palestinian state. The group, which included five deputy ministers, referenced last week’s 20th anniversary of the 1993 Oslo Accords which set off two decades of peace processing but they were most eager to quote, at length, a 2002 speech by Netanyahu in which he pledged never to accept a Palestinian state, since, as he said at the time, it would present a deadly threat to the Jewish state. But the context was the current negotiations currently being conducted between Israel and the Palestinian Authority that were convened earlier this month by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. But since no one, except perhaps for Kerry, thinks there’s a ghost of a chance that those talks will result in an agreement, it’s worth asking what exactly the 17 members of the Likud and Habayit Hayehudi parties are worrying about?

Interestingly, one of the leaders of this faction, Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon, acknowledged that consensus when he told the Times of Israel that the signers of the letter thought there was no chance the talks with the Palestinians would succeed, but said “we want to make sure we won’t be surprised.” What kind of a surprise is he anticipating? Israeli journalist Ben Caspit writing in AL Monitor thinks he has the answer to that question. According to Caspit, there may be a secret deal already in place that will guarantee Netanyahu’s agreement to a Palestinian state. The broad outline of that deal is this: Palestine for Iran. That means Israel trades a diplomatic triumph in the peace talks in exchange for an ironclad guarantee that the U.S. will prevent Iran from going nuclear. If, as Caspit claims, this proposal is already common knowledge in the upper echelons of the coalition, Kerry’s revival of the peace process with the Palestinians is merely a shadow game masking the real negotiations between the U.S. and Israel and that’s what really scares the Israeli right. Yet while Caspit’s claims seem to have substance, the assumption that Netanyahu or Obama are either interested in or capable of coming to such an agreement is still doubtful.

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On Sunday, 17 members of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s governing coalition sent him a letter making it clear they want no part of an Oslo rerun which would involve further surrender of territory and the creation of an independent Palestinian state. The group, which included five deputy ministers, referenced last week’s 20th anniversary of the 1993 Oslo Accords which set off two decades of peace processing but they were most eager to quote, at length, a 2002 speech by Netanyahu in which he pledged never to accept a Palestinian state, since, as he said at the time, it would present a deadly threat to the Jewish state. But the context was the current negotiations currently being conducted between Israel and the Palestinian Authority that were convened earlier this month by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. But since no one, except perhaps for Kerry, thinks there’s a ghost of a chance that those talks will result in an agreement, it’s worth asking what exactly the 17 members of the Likud and Habayit Hayehudi parties are worrying about?

Interestingly, one of the leaders of this faction, Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon, acknowledged that consensus when he told the Times of Israel that the signers of the letter thought there was no chance the talks with the Palestinians would succeed, but said “we want to make sure we won’t be surprised.” What kind of a surprise is he anticipating? Israeli journalist Ben Caspit writing in AL Monitor thinks he has the answer to that question. According to Caspit, there may be a secret deal already in place that will guarantee Netanyahu’s agreement to a Palestinian state. The broad outline of that deal is this: Palestine for Iran. That means Israel trades a diplomatic triumph in the peace talks in exchange for an ironclad guarantee that the U.S. will prevent Iran from going nuclear. If, as Caspit claims, this proposal is already common knowledge in the upper echelons of the coalition, Kerry’s revival of the peace process with the Palestinians is merely a shadow game masking the real negotiations between the U.S. and Israel and that’s what really scares the Israeli right. Yet while Caspit’s claims seem to have substance, the assumption that Netanyahu or Obama are either interested in or capable of coming to such an agreement is still doubtful.

The first problem with any potential U.S.-Israel deal is the Iran component. Given the justified Israeli skepticism about the West’s infatuation with new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, it is highly debatable whether Netanyahu would or could trust any promise from Obama on the subject. Obama’s disastrous handling of the Syrian chemical weapons issue only accentuates those doubts. It is reasonable to argue that Israel has no alternative but to trust U.S. promises on Iran since the window for the Jewish state to attack on its own may be closing. A diplomatic resolution of the nuclear dilemma or a U.S. attack would be far preferable than an Israeli strike that would have to be smaller in scale and therefore less effective. But right now the notion that Obama’s word is his bond is the sort of assumption that no rational person, let alone a cynic like Netanyahu can make, especially when the stakes are this high. Since Obama’s end of this deal will likely mean a diplomatic agreement with Iran and Netanyahu is not likely to believe Tehran has any interest in observing such a deal or that the U.S. would be willing to threaten an attack to enforce, it is hard to see how he could be cajoled into accepting it.

But even if, for the sake of argument, we assume that Obama can make such a promise and that Netanyahu and a majority of his government would buy it, any deal on “Palestine” will necessarily involve the Palestinians. The reason why the current talks have no chance is the same as the one that doomed previous negotiations, including the three Israeli offers of statehood that the Palestinians rejected. No Palestinian leader and certainly not a weakling like Mahmoud Abbas, has the will or the ability to sign any accord that recognizes the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

Those who agree with Caspit’s claims more or less concede this but the theory behind the “Israel for Palestine” thesis posits that what will happen is that after Kerry’s talks fail, Obama will present Netanyahu with his own plan that the Israeli would have to accept. So would the Palestinians. Caspit says that would mean an Israeli withdrawal to the separation fence but not from Jerusalem or the major West Bank settlement banks that are enclosed by the barrier. No outlying settlements would be evacuated (theoretically preventing the breakup of the Likud over the deal) but much of the West Bank — how much Caspit is not sure — would be left for the Palestinians to have as their state that would be recognized by the U.N., the U.S. and Israel. The U.S. would promise the Palestinians that the borders would not be final but merely an interim stage before more negotiations that would reap them more territory including a share of Jerusalem.

Would the Palestinians accept such an interim deal? It would certainly be in their interests to do so since sovereignty would strengthen their position in future talks.

Yet even if we buy into the idea that Netanyahu longs to be treated with the international respect that goes to peacemakers and will break faith with his coalition in order to get it, there is no way he would agree to such a deal without the Palestinians being forced to agree to end the conflict for all time by recognizing Israel as the Jewish state and giving up on the right of return for the descendants of the 1948 Arab refugees. And that is something that Abbas is not likely to do no matter what the temptations since doing so would strengthen his Hamas rivals and endanger his life.

There are other reasons to think this may not happen.

One is that all of the loose talk about a secret deal already in place may be disinformation being spread by the United States or by some Israelis in order to build momentum for a peace deal. Anyone who believes everything they hear coming out of the mouth of Israeli politicians or U.S. diplomats is also likely to buy a bridge in Brooklyn.

Another is that Caspit’s concept takes it as a given that President Obama is willing to do anything to achieve peace in the Middle East in the same manner that Bill Clinton employed when he was orchestrating the process during the late 1990s as Oslo unraveled. Assuming that Obama has the will to do something on Iran is hard enough to believe. Making a similar assumption about his willingness to expend much of his increasingly scarce political capital to take a chance on Middle East peace is even harder. Though presidents sinking into irrelevance during troubled second terms often turn to foreign policy for triumphs they can no longer achieve at home, the notion that Obama is willing to take the chance it will all blow up in his face as it did to Clinton after the collapse of the 2000 Camp David talks and Yasir Arafat’s launch of the second intifada requires a prodigious leap of faith.

Last, there is the enigma of Netanyahu. As Caspit acknowledges, “Sometimes Netanyahu does reach agreements, but it is only on very rare occasions that he implements them.” Though he has traveled a long way toward accepting the concept of a two-state solution, he is not likely to repeat the mistakes made by his predecessors Yitzhak Rabin or Ariel Sharon. If he does sign on to a deal it will not be one that will trade land for terror as they did but for a complete and final peace. As much as he considers maintaining the alliance with the United States to be one of his top priorities, he has also shown he knows Israel must set limits on how far it can be pushed by its superpower friend. Moreover, the belief that his longing to be thought of as an eminent statesman will cause him to sacrifice his country’s security or give up one vital interest for another is to underestimate his character and his innate skepticism.

Rather than being a stalking horse for a future Obama peace plan, the Kerry talks may be exactly what they appear to be: a diplomatic dead-end pushed by a hubristic secretary of state with no plan B to deal with the consequences of certain failure. Supporters of Palestinian statehood hope and Israeli right-wingers fear that Netanyahu will soon make the deal with Obama that Caspit writes about but until we see it with our own eyes the rest of us should take “Iran for Palestine” with a shovelful of salt.

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Trust Iran’s No Nuke Pledge?

It’s quite amazing how many pundits and journalists treat Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s promise that Iran does not seek nuclear weapons with anything besides great skepticism.

First of all, Iranian leaders have a history of making sweeping promises to Western audiences and then violating the same promises. Several years ago, I chronicled a number of these promises, here. My favorite? Promising to lift the fatwa ordering British author Salman Rushdie’s murder. On May 18, 1999, the Iranian government finally promised to lift the fatwa in return for the British reopening their embassy in Tehran. The British obliged. The next day, the Iranian government re-imposed its bounty on Rushdie. Indeed, killing Rushdie remains one of the missions listed on this recent Iranian application to be a suicide bomber.

That Rouhani is making the vow should give pause, given how Rowhani once expounded on a strategy to feint concession while advancing Iran’s nuclear program. More on Iranian strategy, here.

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It’s quite amazing how many pundits and journalists treat Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s promise that Iran does not seek nuclear weapons with anything besides great skepticism.

First of all, Iranian leaders have a history of making sweeping promises to Western audiences and then violating the same promises. Several years ago, I chronicled a number of these promises, here. My favorite? Promising to lift the fatwa ordering British author Salman Rushdie’s murder. On May 18, 1999, the Iranian government finally promised to lift the fatwa in return for the British reopening their embassy in Tehran. The British obliged. The next day, the Iranian government re-imposed its bounty on Rushdie. Indeed, killing Rushdie remains one of the missions listed on this recent Iranian application to be a suicide bomber.

That Rouhani is making the vow should give pause, given how Rowhani once expounded on a strategy to feint concession while advancing Iran’s nuclear program. More on Iranian strategy, here.

Now, some analysts point to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s alleged fatwa banning nuclear weapons. Alas, while Khamenei lists his fatwas on his website, the so-called nuclear fatwa is not among them. Why bother putting something in writing if diplomats are willing to embrace what they have neither seen nor read?

Diplomats often put process against substance. Giddiness at the possibility of sitting down with adversaries too often trumps the results of such meetings. Until Supreme Leader Khamenei publicly and unequivocally announces the suspension of Iran’s illicit uranium enrichment, forfeiture of its more highly-enriched stockpiles, and an opening of all facilities, both declared and undeclared to inspectors, then Rowhani’s outreach must be interpreted as more a tactic for delay than sincere.

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