The US administration did not initiate a spate of leaks over the last few weeks that some in Jerusalem felt were aimed at torpedoing a possible Israeli attack on Iran, US ambassador Dan Shapiro told The Jerusalem Post.
Shapiro, in a Passover interview with the Post, said initiating such a campaign would be “counter to our own interest, and certainly counter to the way President [Barack] Obama does business – to try to run a different policy through leaks, rather than the one that is being said in a straightforward manner publicly and privately.”
A number of reports dealing with a possible Israeli attack on Iran, including one last week claiming that Israel had secured the use of airfields in Azerbaijan for this purpose, have led some to conclude the administration was the source of those reports.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was noncommittal on the matter at a press conference earlier this week, saying he was taking Obama’s advice from last month and speaking little about Iran; he said he “hoped” others were doing the same.
According to Shapiro, “many of the stories that have caused some concern are attributed to former US officials, or people who call themselves former US officials outside the government who nobody has any control over.
“Occasionally, perhaps, there are individuals within the government who call themselves US officials, and take it upon themselves to express certain views to journalists.”
The US ambassador said Obama had articulated the American policy on Iran very clearly last month in an interview in the Atlantic and at a speech at AIPAC. He said the intensive Israeli-US coordination of the past few weeks had led to a “tremendous convergence” in Israeli and US policies on the matter.
According to Shapiro, there was total agreement that Iran had to be prevented from obtaining nuclear weapons, and that containment of a nuclear Iran was not an option.
In addition, a “common intelligence basis” is being used to judge what is happening inside Iran, and there is a “common strategy to use maximum economic pressure, diplomatic pressure and sanctions to try and convince Iran to go in a different direction,” he said.
He also noted a “common principle” governing the two countries: “That every option, including the military option, is on the table, because it is just too dangerous to let Iran acquire nuclear weapons.”
At the same time, he said both countries “deal with the problem that sometimes people speak out of turn, or leak things that are inaccurate or self-serving, and that is unfortunate. We should all try to prevent that to the maximum degree we can, but some things can’t be prevented.”
Asked whether he thought Obama would take military action if he saw that Iran was assembling a nuclear weapon, Shapiro said the president had been “pretty clear on what he was prepared to do to make sure this doesn’t happen.” Obama was also clear, he said, that he believed “we have some time to use pressure and diplomacy.”
Regarding US expectations for the talks scheduled to begin next week between the world’s powers and Iran, Shapiro said that in order for those talks to continue, there needed to be some sense that they were going to lead somewhere within a reasonable time frame.
While Shapiro said he didn’t believe it would be possible to judge Tehran’s intentions in one meeting, he did believe the negotiations provided a chance to see whether the Iranians – because of massive economic pressure – would now use the diplomatic track as an “off ramp” away from their nuclear program.
He said the US was consulting “very closely with Israel on the strategy and goals” of the talks.
Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic track, the ambassador acknowledged that “the prospects for immediate breakthroughs are probably not very high.”
However, he added that this did not mean that “some progress” could not be made in trying to “set the groundwork for larger progress” down the line.
While the process was moving “more slowly than we might like,” he said the US wanted to “retain the gains that have been achieved in the West Bank: improved economy, improved security and improved governance.”
He said those gains benefitted both Israelis and Palestinians, and “helped to provide a foundation for negotiations, either now or sometime a little bit later.”
He characterized the recent UN Human Rights Council resolution to send a fact-finding mission to study the impact of the settlements on Palestinian human rights as “very unwelcome.” He hinted that the mission might not ever get off the ground, saying, “We are in a very early phase after a resolution – which is a resolution on paper, something different from actual implementation.”
He added that “we will see what happens in terms of implementation.
It may not happen automatically, it may not happen soon or at all.”
Asked his feeling about journalist Peter Beinart’s recent call for US Jews to boycott goods made in the settlements, Shapiro said, “That is not our policy.”
“Our position on settlements is very well known,” he added.
“We don’t accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity.
The issue of settlements itself has to be resolved in negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
Israel does have certain obligations that it has undertaken, to dismantle illegal outposts. That defines our policy, and I will leave it there.”