Israel restless over US’ Iran engagement policy

Israel restless over US’ Iran engagement policy
Mon Sep 30, 2013 10:15:08

Can US President Barack Obama resist the Israeli pressure over Iran and continue his Iran engagement policy with a serious intent? This is a key question that will most likely be clarified in the immediate future, in light of Israeli Prime Minister’s Washington visit this week and the flurry of pre-visit Israeli propaganda aimed at Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, who had a highly successful trip to New York to attend the UN General Assembly summit last week.

Of course, the issue of a US-Israeli rift over Iran deserves critical scrutiny and should not be adopted at face value. So far, the White House appears to have coordinated its recent Iran steps with Tel Aviv and a government spokesperson has admitted that Obama informed Netanyahu of his telephone conversation with President Rouhani ahead of time.

Irrespective of that, the Tel Aviv regime and the pro-Israel lobby in the United States are clearly worried about the diplomatic impact of Rouhani’s UN visit and the qualitative steps forward which were taken by both the US and Iran toward dialog and negotiation. Netanyahu has counseled the White House to remain steadfast with respect to the sanctions on Iran, relentlessly accusing Iran of harboring nuclear ambitions and being within precious few months from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

Such accusations have been circulating for over a decade and the world community is less and less inclined to give much credence to the incessant Israeli propaganda against Iran, which serves Israel’s twin objectives of sustaining generous Western financial and military support on the one hand, and, on the other, deflecting attentions from the Palestinian issue.

Concerning the latter, despite feeble American efforts at jump-starting a new round of negotiations, led by US Secretary of State John Kerry, so far there is hardly any substantive progress and it remains to be seen if Obama succeeds in convincing Netanyahu to agree to meaningful negotiations with the Palestinians, who are clearly fed up and frustrated by the sheer absence of any movement in the international scene to address their predicament.

Chances are that Netanyahu is prepared to trade favors with Obama, whereby for agreeing to Obama’s demands on the Israel-Palestinian front, Netanyahu would be guaranteed a firm and uncompromising US stance toward Iran. If so, then Israeli flexibility on the Palestinian issue would go hand in hand with an Israeli rejectionism vis-à-vis a US-Iran détente. Henceforth, there is a distinct possibility that Israel would achieve its objective of limiting Obama’s overtures toward Iran at the level of symbolic gestures without an accompanying substantive alteration of the course of coercive diplomacy, which has been in place throughout the Obama presidency.

Already, there are disconcerting signs that the Obama administration is oscillating between a hard-line and a more flexible and pragmatic approach toward Iran, reflected in Kerry’s interview with the CBS’ “60 Minutes” which showed Kerry echoing Rouhani’s optimism to resolve the nuclear issue in 3 to 7 months and, yet, asking Iran to “take immediate steps” such as adopting the IAEA’s intrusive Additional Protocol, allowing thorough inspections of the Fordo nuclear facility and even shutting it down. Clearly, someone has to inform Kerry that Fordo is already covered by the IAEA safeguards and the recent IAEA reports on Iran confirm the absence of any evidence of military diversion at Fordo or any other Iranian nuclear facility.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, in an interview with the ABC television network, rightly stated that Mr. Kerry should not “dictate” to Iran and these are matters for a comprehensive negotiation. Also, Zarif reiterated Iran’s long-standing opposition to nuclear weapons and reminded the audience that Israel has more than 200 nuclear warheads and unlike Iran is not a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Clearly, Mr. Kerry is on the wrong track when insisting on Iranian “confidence-building” steps without, however, presenting any clue as to what the US is prepared to offer in response to such unilateral Iranian initiatives. Putting the cart before the horse, Mr. Kerry should entertain such moves by Iran only as parts of an “end-game” agreement, which should entail the lifting of sanctions. Yet, neither Kerry nor Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, have given any public clue that the “5 +1” package to Iran will be any different from the one presented in Almaty in June, 2013, as a “confidence-building proposal.”

That proposal called on Iran to suspend 20% enrichment; ship out the 20% stockpile in excess of what is needed for medical use, agree to enhanced International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) monitoring, and suspend operations at the Fordo enrichment facility, for a period of six months. In return, it offered limited relief from United States and European Union sanctions on trade in gold and precious metals and petrochemical sales; the licensing of US repairs to Iran civilian aircraft; as well as to impose no new UN or EU sanctions. Iran rejected that package on the ground that it did not present sufficient sanctions relief and was asking too much and giving relatively little in return.

Consequently, unless the “5 +1” are prepared to revise their package and offer to lift the energy and financial sanctions on Iran, it is difficult to foresee how a breakthrough in the deadlocked negotiations can be achieved. If Obama appeases Netanyahu by refusing to put the main Iran sanctions on the table at the next round of multilateral negotiations scheduled for mid-October in Geneva, then it will be abundantly clear that he has failed a crucial litmus test of his “new Iran engagement” policy, which was delivered with much fanfare at the UN last Tuesday.

On the other hand, Obama, who is released from his first term’s concerns for re-election, could conceivably resist Netanyahu’s rather angry march on Washington and keep pressing him on the Middle East peace process, i.e., a heroic effort that has not been witnessed in Washington since Bush (the father) strong armed the Israelis toward the Oslo peace in the aftermath of the Kuwait war.

But, twenty years after Oslo, the peace process is for all practical purposes dead in the water and Obama has distinguished himself by the absence of any pressure on Israel whatsoever. There is a window of time between now and the next one year and a half, before Obama’s presidency turns into a “lame duck,” and this simply means that right now there is a unique opportunity for Obama to push for tangible progress on such important foreign policy issues as Iran and the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

In conclusion, there are definite signs of US foreign policy change foisted on the horizon, but time will tell if these will culminate in a positive, breakthrough outcome or the continuation of more familiar pattern of US Middle East policies “made in Israel.”

By Dr. Kaveh L. Afrasiabi

Originally published on Press TV

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