Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a joint meeting of Congress in 2011. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh.)
Let’s first of all put a positive spin on President Obama’s latest Nowruz message to the Iranian people for its New Year. By now, it’s a tradition for Obama to deliver a text and video message for Nowruz, addressed, says the White House, “directly to the people and leaders of Iran.” Because Obama is headed to Israel this week, where he’ll go mano a mano with a weakened Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Obama’s message yesterday marks the official start of what might be called “Iran-Israel Week.”
That, in itself, is a victory for Israel, since Netanyahu since 2009 has managed to utterly change the subject from Israel-Palestine to Israel-Iran.
In his remarks to Iran, Obama said that Iran can establish a “new relationship” with the United States:
“I have offered the Iranian government an opportunity—if it meets its international obligations, then there could be a new relationship between our two countries, and Iran could begin to return to its rightful place among the community of nations. ”
And though Obama says that Iran has “been unable to convince the international community that their nuclear activities are solely for peaceful purposes,” he adds:
“If—as Iran’s leaders say—their nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, then there is a basis for a practical solution. It’s a solution that would give Iran access to peaceful nuclear energy while resolving once and for all the serious questions that the world has about the true nature of the Iranian nuclear program.”
That studied ambiguity, the parallel ambiguity to “all options are on the table,” doesn’t make clear whether not not Iran can ever negotiate the West’s acceptance of its right to enrich uranium. Nearly all Iran watchers by now, except for neoconservatives and some Israelis, recognize that Iran’s right-to-enrich will be recognized in a US-Iran accord. Obama could accomplish a lot simply by saying that.
Israel clearly worries about exactly that. As The New York Times reports today, in its analysis of Iran-Israel Week:
In the wake of the most recent round of talks in Kazakhstan, some Israelis are concerned that the West might be preparing to cut a deal with Iran that would allow it to keep a stockpile of less-enriched uranium, which it could later purify to nuclear-grade.
Well, not just “stockpile,” but legally enrich, too.
Vali Nasr, who’s emerging as an important critic of the Obama administration’s Middle East and Afghanistan policy, suggested in a New York Times op-ed yesterday that it’s time for the United States to specifically offer to relax sanctions as part of the talks with Iran:
And rather than offering only vague promises that serious concessions might be rewarded someday by dropping all the sanctions as a package, Washington should offer to do away with specific sanctions, piece by piece, in exchange for specific Iranian concessions. In that way, both sides might begin dismantling the most dangerous aspects of Iran’s nuclear program in incremental, verifiable ways.
Sanctions, he says, drive Iranian insecurity, which in turn makes Iran consider seeking nuclear weapons as a defense. Says Nasr:
Iran’s leaders already suspect that America’s real goal is to overthrow their Islamic republic; at the same time, their citizens bitterly resent the sanctions, and generally support the idea of an Iranian nuclear program. Their leaders remember the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, when Saddam Hussein violated international law by using chemical weapons and was never punished for it. Iran’s leaders concluded that they were vulnerable to aggression by their better-armed Arab neighbors, and that international agreements offered no protection.
Obama’s expected kowtowing to Netanyahu, a great deal of which will be for political reasons, won’t make talks with Iran any easier. But once Obama has departed the Zionist state, having placated Netanyahu, he might be freer to make a serious offer to Iran in the next round, in April.
Robert Dreyfuss and other commentators looked back on the Iraq War for OpinionNation on the tenth anniversary of the invasion.