President Barack Obama in Jerusalem. (AP Photo/Baz Ratner)
With refreshing bluntness, The New York Times informed us over the weekend that Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to wreck the US-Iranian diplomatic opening. It wrote, in its lead paragraph:
Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, moved quickly to block even tentative steps by Iran and the United States to ease tensions and move toward negotiations to end the nuclear crisis, signaling what is likely to be a sustained campaign by Israel to head off any deal.
That says it all. Israel, various hawks and neoconservatives, and outlets such as The Wall Street Journal are alarmed at the possibility that the United States and Iran might actually make a deal. As President Hassan Rouhani of Iran arrives in New York for a critical week at the United Nations, Tehran has sent plenty of signals that it’s ready to talk.
In response, unfortunately—perhaps because of pressure from those hawks—the White House has hardly responded with positive signals of its own. Although President Obama and the State Department have indicated that they are ready to “test” Iran’s good faith, Washington has not suggested that it is prepared to make significant concessions of its own. Still, there is even a possibility that either President Obama or Secretary of State Kerry will meet with their counterparts during the UN session that begins this week.
Even the prospect of an Obama-Rouhani encounter alarms The Wall Street Journal, which in an editorial today says that such a meeting “would give the dictatorship new international prestige at zero cost.” Echoing Netanyahu’s maximum, no-compromise position, the Journal adds that Obama must demand what would amount to complete capitulation by Iran:
At a bare minimum any deal would have to halt Iran’s enrichment of uranium, remove the already enriched uranium from the country, close all nuclear sites and provide for robust monitoring anytime and anywhere.
That, of course, isn’t going to happen. Any possible deal with Iran will have to include full recognition of Iran’s right to enrich uranium, on its own soil, under international safeguards, and Iran’s right to maintain a stockpile of enriched uranium for nuclear-fuel purposes. No Iranian president could survive politically if they accepted anything less, and Rouhani—who served as Iran’s nuclear negotiator in nearly a decade ago under President Khatami’s reformist government—has already insisted on Iran’s fundamental nuclear rights under the Nonproliferation Treaty that Iran has signed.
At the UN, Netanyahu—who last year held up cartoon-like drawings intended to illustrate Iran’s rush to build a bomb—is said to be preparing a speech in which he’ll say that Iran is preparing a “trap” for the United States. A wide range of Israeli politicians and analysts quoted in The Guardian amply demonstrate that Israel intends to approach any possibility of US-Iran talks like a wrecking ball. And The Guardian quotes Netanyahu’s office: