Netanyahu, Obama duke it out over Iran

By
April 13, 2015 07:28

A battle of words between the two leaders offers insight on Iranian nuclear talks.




White House

US President Barack Obama meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House, October 1, 2014. (photo credit:REUTERS)

The US supports dangerous concessions to Iran, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned on Sunday, after US President Barack Obama charged that Israel had a history of oppositional behavior toward a diplomatic solution with regard to Tehran’s nuclear program.

“Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” Obama told reporters in Panama on Saturday as he chided Israel and its prime minister.

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Netanyahu shot back from Jerusalem the next day.

“We must not allow Iran, the foremost sponsor of global terrorism, to have an easy path to nuclear weapons which will threaten the entire world,” he said in a videotaped public statement issued from Jerusalem.

The battle of words heated up over the weekend in advance of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s scheduled briefings with members of Congress on Monday and Tuesday. It will be the first such briefing since a framework agreement was worked out in Lausanne, Switzerland, earlier this month to curb Iran’s nuclear program.

A comprehensive accord between Iran and the six world powers, including the US, will be finalized only at the end of June.

Like Israel, congressional Republicans have opposed the framework deal in its present form. Sen. John McCain of Arizona has flatly charged that Kerry is “delusional.”

The secretary of state told CBS News’s Face the Nation that “people need to hold their fire.” He also discouraged congressional “interference.”

The Senate leadership is considering action on a bill that would grant Congress oversight powers for any future nuclear deal with Tehran. Obama has warned that such action – and rhetoric similar to McCain’s – is partisan subterfuge against a diplomatic effort that, as president, is within his authority to lead.

Kerry appeared on three US Sunday news interview shows, saying Iran had “proven” its willingness to enter into an agreement and live by it, with its adherence to an interim nuclear deal first signed in November 2013.

Obama told reporters in Panama the same thing on Saturday.

Then, in a clear dig at Israel, he said Israel initially had opposed that deal, but now wants it to remain in place. He spoke in general about Iran during the news conference, but when referencing opponents of the deal, he immediately named Israel.

Netanyahu, he said, is opposed to the framework agreement even though he has not presented an alternative.

“I have repeatedly asked: What is the alternative that you [Netanyahu] present that you think makes it less likely for Iran to get a nuclear weapon? And I have yet to obtain a good answer on that,” Obama stated.

Netanyahu provided an answer in Sunday’s public statement by insisting that continued sanctions might lead to a deal that would help safeguard the region and the world from Iranian aggression. He focused on two points that could transform the deal into a positive accord.

“First, instead of allowing Iran to preserve and develop its nuclear capabilities, a better deal would significantly roll back these capabilities – for example, by shutting down the illicit underground facilities that Iran concealed for years from the international community,” Netanyahu said.

He added that he took issue with the automatic lifting of restrictions on centrifuges after a decade, as well as the ability for Iran to enrich uranium after 15 years.

“Instead of lifting the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear facilities and program at a fixed date” the prime minister stated, “a better deal would link the lifting of these restrictions to an end of Iran’s aggression in the region, its worldwide terrorism and its threats to annihilate Israel.”

In Panama on Saturday, Obama dismissed the idea that sanctions would continue to be an effective tool and argued that the framework deal would be more effective than a military strike in halting Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

“It is more likely to succeed, not only than maintaining current sanctions or additional sanctions, but more likely to succeed than if we took a military approach to solving the problem,” Obama said. “A large majority of people who are experts in the field say this is actually a realistic, plausible, meaningful approach to cut off the pathways for Iran getting a nuclear weapon.”

It would be best if Iran lacked even a “single nut and bolt” related to nuclear power, the president said, adding, however, that it was not possible to eliminate its nuclear program.

“They are going to have some force of peaceful nuclear power and that will then pose a challenge for the international community, which is why the political agreement calls for an unprecedented framework of inspections that allows us to assure that it is not being used or diverted in ways that could be weaponized,” Obama said.

But in his response, Netanyahu said the US had misjudged the situation, saying that more concessions could be wrung from Iran because it wanted a deal more then the six powers did.

“Iran needs a deal more than anyone,” he said in his statement.

“Instead of making dangerous concessions to Iran, now is the time for the international community to reassert and fortify its original demands for a better deal.”

He pointed out that statements by Iranian leaders last Thursday, in which they insisted that sanctions be lifted before the deal is ratified in June and said they would not allow inspections of its military sites, indicate the unrealistic nature of the framework deal.

“In the last few days, Iran has shown again why it can’t be trusted,” Netanyahu said.

“Iran insists on maintaining its formidable nuclear capabilities with which it could produce nuclear bombs,” he continued.

“Iran insists on removing all sanctions immediately. And Iran refuses to allow effective inspections of all its suspect facilities.

At the same time, Iran continues its unbridled aggression in the region and its worldwide terrorism.”

During his Panama news conference on Saturday, Obama urged people not to take statements out of Iran too seriously.

“It is not surprising to me that the supreme leader or a whole bunch of other people are going to try characterize the deal in away that protects their political positions,” the president stated, adding that without vigorous inspections or the ability to snap back sanctions in response to violations, a deal might not take place.

“I do not understand why everyone is working so hard to anticipate failure,” he said. “The opponents of the deal do not seem focused on how do we get to a good deal as much as they are focused on how can we show that it is not possible to get a good deal. My simple point is let’s wait and see what the deal is,” he said.

“If in fact we are not satisfied that it cuts off the pathways for Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon, then we will not sign it,” Obama said.

Kerry told NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday: “We believe that the outlines, the parameters that we have laid out thus far, are the outlines of that good deal. Now, is it perfect yet? No. Are there things that need to be done? Yes.”

He defended the Obama administration’s interpretation of the Lausanne framework, which it detailed in a fact sheet released by the White House last week.

Each provision of that document is factual, the secretary insisted, after McCain suggested that the parameters sheet could be flawed. The senator noted that after Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said over the same weekend, in his first public comments on the deal, that the White House was lying about the contents of the framework agreement, the “widely divergent explanations” of a potential deal must be explained to Congress for its ultimate approval.

Kerry also told NBC: “Yesterday, the Russians released a statement saying that the statement released by the United States is both reliable and factual. So I will stand by every word that I have uttered publicly.”

He added that on Monday he would have a long conversation on the matter with members of the House of Representatives, and that there would be a similar extended dialogue with members of the Senate on Tuesday.

Michael Wilner contributed to this report.


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