Jerusalem and Washington’s spat over Iran policy could make a final agreement
with Tehran harder, since Iran may believe it is breaking up the coalition
against it, a former key member of US President Barack Obama’s national security
team said Wednesday.
“I think when there is a public split between the US
and Israel it gives the Iranians some confidence,” said Gary Samore, who served
during Obama’s first term as the White House coordinator for Arms Control and
Weapons of Mass Destruction, often referred to as Obama’s WMD “czar.”
don’t want to give them courage or a sense that they are prevailing,” he said.
“To the extent that they see dissension in the ranks of the coalition that
opposes them, it makes it more difficult to negotiate an agreement because they
think their hand is stronger. I would prefer to present as solid a front as
When asked whether Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was
making a tactical error by continuously slamming the recent interim agreement
reached in Geneva, Samore said “It seems to me that the normal way in which
allies work together is through confidential diplomatic channels.”
risk of taking the disagreement so public, he said, is that Netanyahu might
“antagonize people to the point where they stop listening to his arguments, some
of which have a lot of merit.”
He said that as an American who thinks
Israel is “a good ally,” he would prefer trying to work through these
disagreements privately “instead of through public accusations.”
that, he said, he did not think the current disagreement would cause any
permanent damage to Israeli- US ties.
“I think it’s time for everyone to
sort of recognize that this deal is done, and what we should focus on now is how
we take advantage of the next six months to get additional concessions out of
Iran,” he advised.
During a 45 minute interview with The Jerusalem Post,
Samore, who is currently at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and
International Affairs, walked a fine line between saying that the Geneva accord
was a good move and acknowledging he had no illusions that diplomacy would
provide a final fix to the Iranian nuclear program.
“I personally doubt
very much that a final agreement can be reached in six months, because the two
sides are so far apart on the really essential issues,” he said.
was in the country to take part in discussions by a new group called the Forum
for an Israeli Grand Strategy.
The forum consists of some 70 local
academics and experts across a wide variety of fields who have been meeting
discreetly since May to formulate a grand national strategy for Israel at a time
of dramatic global change.
Samore took part in the discussion as part of
cooperation between the forum and Harvard.
The Geneva agreement, he said,
has set the stage for much more difficult negotiations over a final deal, as
Iran already said it would not dismantle any nuclear facilities while Obama
declared that the terms of any final agreement would have to “make it impossible
for Iran to build nuclear weapons.”
Samore called the Geneva deal a first
step, saying he could imagine a situation where it would lead to a “pause” in
Iran’s program for a couple of years, although “at the end of that the Iranians
may very well walk away from the deal.”
Asked what would have been
gained, he said that “you’ve gained a couple of years, which is better than the
He said he could also envision a “rolling process” or a
series of “interim agreements that imposes limits and constraints and delays on
Iran’s program in exchange for limitations on sanctions, but which does not
fundamentally solve the problem.”
He said it was possible that this
problem could be passed on to the next US president, just as George W. Bush
passed it on to Obama.
Were it not for the current pause, Samore said,
“we would be continuing with the sanctions pressure and they would continue with
their nuclear program, and of course they could expand the program pretty
rapidly and that could take you to the point where you would have to make a
decision” on a military strike.
“Obama does not want to have to make that
decision,” Samore stressed. “He wants to push off that moment of decision, and
that is what this does – it delays the crucial moment where there is a
Delays, he added, had been the overall strategy against Iran for
years – through diplomacy, pressure, threat and covert activity. At some point
in time, he explained, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will die and there
will be a new leader who might, or might not, change Iran’s nuclear
“We don’t have a guarantee,” Samore said. “I don’t think we can
fundamentally change the motivation of the supreme leader (to have a military
nuclear program). All we can do is make the price of obtaining it so high that
he refrains from giving the order to produce a bomb, which is what has happened
He added that both Israeli and US officials concurred that it
would take the Iranians about a year to actually assemble a bomb – something
that would be very difficult to hide and that would give the US ample time to