Israel's ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer (R),..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – Israeli ambassador to the US Ron Dermer has been “unusually vigorous” in outreach to the Hill, according to a senior US official, who added, however, that he is not the only ambassador working in Congress to advocate the policy of a foreign government that works against the US administration’s positions.
The official said the administration was not surprised by Dermer’s activity on the Hill, and that it is consistent with the approach Israel has taken on the nuclear deal reached between Iran and world powers last month.
“Every government has the right to advocate for its interests as it sees them,” he said.
“Israel is not the only government to lobby Congress even against the administration.”
Dermer has not yet met with US National Security Adviser Susan Rice, but has a channel to the White House through its chief of staff, Denis McDonough, the official said.
He also meets regularly with other staffers on the National Security Council. Rice has regular dialogue with her Israeli counterpart Yossi Cohen, he added.
Speaking on Monday to a delegation of Israeli diplomatic reporters visiting Washington, the official said that the disagreement over the Iran issue will not impact on the broader US-Israel relationship, and that there will not be any cost to Israel for its objection to that deal.
The five-day visit to Washington and New York was funded by the Ruderman Family Foundation, which sponsors programs aimed at enhancing Israeli understanding of the American Jewish community. Dermer did not meet the delegation. The visit was "initiated by the Israel Diplomatic Correspondent Association, and the meetings were set up with the assistance of the Jewish Federations of North America. "
The US administration expected that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would object to the deal, the official said, adding that “we have not seen anything new or unexpected” in his opposition.
Dialogue with Israel over the accord will continue even after the congressional debate on the issue. “We hope we can prove what the benefits are, and we want to find ways to get beyond this impasse, this argument, which we see as a policy disagreement among friends. We don’t want to see it define the relationship going forward,” the official said.
The US will always be willing to discuss with Israel what its security needs are as a result of the agreement, he said, stressing that the US was not going to “hold it against the government or people of Israel that we had a disagreement with Netanyahu. We will want to make sure this is clear during the debate, and on the other side of it.”
The official, when asked whether US President Barack Obama viewed Iran as a legacy issue, cautioned that if Iran gets nuclear weapons in 10 years, that will be harmful for his legacy. Obama, he said, is motivated not by legacy, but rather a desire to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons, something he believes this accord achieves.
Regarding the degree to which the Iran deal will impact on US policy on the Israeli-Palestinian track, the official said that an administration policy review is still under way, and that Washington is looking at a “range of approaches” it can take. He said, however, that the administration is “realistic about the prospects of achieving a settlement, given where the parties are.”
“We will draw on the work of the last several years as a way to determine what approach to take for the next 18 months,” he said.
Another senior government official disputed the oft-heard argument that Iran stands to gain a $150 billion windfall when sanctions are lifted, saying the number is $56 billion.
The official stressed that the Iranian economy is “in tatters,” and that the country is “about $500 billion in the hole.” Iran has $100 billion in debts, meaning that salaries and pensions are unpaid. In addition, he said, the Iranian oil minister recently said that the country needs $160 billion to bring its oil infrastructure up to where it should be now.
Those needs, he said, dwarf everything else.
Not all US sanctions against Iranian entities are going to be removed as a result of the accord, including sanctions against the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, he said.
The concern about Iran in the Persian Gulf countries will lead them to enhance their efforts along with the US to block the flow of money from Tehran to bad actors in the region, he added.