A carefully crafted US-Israel message on Iran

Netanyahu and Obama's meeting Monday, shows Rouhani did not drive a wedge on the nuclear issue between the two leaders and despite recent diplomatic developments the US and Israel remain on the same page.

October 1, 2013 02:06
4 minute read.
Prime Minister Netanyahu and US President Obama meet at the Oval Office, September 30, 2013.

Netanyahu and Obama at Oval Office 370. (photo credit: Koby Gideon/GPO)

US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu know well how to use their meetings to make their displeasure over various issues known to one another and to the world.

Obama did this during his very first meeting as president with Netanyahu in May 2009, when he blindsided the newly elected prime minister during their joint statements with a demand for a settlement freeze. He did it again in March 2010, soon after the blowup over the announcement to build in Jerusalem’s Ramat Shlomo neighborhood during Vice President Joe Biden’s visit, when he did not allow non-official photographers to record their meeting, and issued no statement afterward.

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Then in May 2011 it was Netanyahu’s turn. During the joint statement in the Oval Office following that meeting, Netanyahu “lectured” the president about exactly why it was impossible for Israel to return to the “indefensible” pre-1967 lines, which Obama had called for the day before, albeit, with mutually agreed land swaps.

When they want the world or their constituents to see discord, they know very well how to do so. On Monday it was crystal clear that they had no interest in doing so.

What emerged from their brief joint appearance after Monday’s meeting was an obvious effort to publicly play down any differences about Iran.

Although the statements at these events are always made with the leaders sitting casually in comfortable chairs, their words are not off-the-cuff remarks. Rather, they are carefully thought out and crafted beforehand.

Obama, in his remarks, sent a message that, yes, the US was well aware of what Netanyahu has been warning ever since Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s election victory in June, that what was important were actions, not words.

“Given the statements and actions from the Iranian regime in the past, the threats against Israel, the acts against Israel, it is absolutely clear that words are not sufficient,” Obama said, adding that “we have to have actions that give the international community confidence that in fact they are meeting their international obligations fully and that they are not in a position to have a nuclear weapon.”

“We enter into these negotiations very clear-eyed,” he said. “They will not be easy, and anything that we do will require the highest standards of verification in order for us to provide the sort of sanctions relief that I think they are looking for.” And, he added, “as president of the United States, I’ve said before, and I will repeat that we take no options off the table, including military options, in terms of making sure that we do not have nuclear weapons in Iran that would destabilize the region and potentially threaten the United States of America.”

Those words were meant to soothe Netanyahu’s concerns, first by assuring him – and all those listening – that the US was “clear eyed” about Rouhani, and would not be taken in by his “charm offensive,” and secondly by stressing that “all options are still on the table.”

In the past the “all options are on the table” line lost much of its punch because it was repeated so often that it seemed almost a throw-away line.

But this was the first time since Rouhani’s trip to the US and Washington’s outreach to Iran that these words have been repeated by Obama. Israel was itching to hear them, and was disappointed that Obama did not repeat the mantra during his speech to the UN last week.

These words are important for Jerusalem not because it is longing – as some argue – for a US military strike on Iran, but rather because of the firm belief that Iran – as Syria did with its chemical weapons arsenal – will only back down if it believes that if it does not, it will face military action.

Netanyahu’s words, as well, were indicative of an attempt to emphasize the agreements on Iran, rather than underline the disagreements.

He tellingly did not come out at all against a US-Iranian dialogue, or against the seeds of a new, more open policy toward Iran that were planted in Washington last week.

Rather, Netanyahu expressed his appreciation for the work that has been done to place the sanctions regime on Iran, and said he appreciated Obama’s comments “that Iran’s conciliatory words have to be matched by real actions – transparent, verifiable, meaningful actions.”

Tehran was listening carefully to the words spoken Monday in the Oval Office. And the message that Obama and Netanyahu wanted it, as well as the rest of the world, to hear was that on Iran’s nuclear issue, the US and Israel – despite the dramatic developments of the last week and a half – remain on the same page.

Some argue that Netanyahu went to the US this week to try and drive a wedge between Rouhani and Obama. The tone and tenor of Monday’s comments indicate that what truly happened was that Rouhani, at least when it comes to the nuclear issue, has failed to drive a wedge between Obama and Netanyahu.

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