Top Republican senator: Not time for ‘splashy’ peace talks

Senator Tom Cotton told the Post this week that neither Israelis nor Palestinians are interested in a peace process along the lines of what former secretary of state John Kerry tried to orchestrate.

March 24, 2017 15:25
2 minute read.
Republican Senator Tom Cotton from Arkansas,

Republican Senator Tom Cotton from Arkansas,. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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WASHINGTON – Fresh from a visit to the region, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) cautioned the Trump administration against rushing into a new, highly publicized round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Cotton, who will be speaking at the annual Jerusalem Post Conference in New York on May 7, told the Post this week that neither Israelis nor Palestinians are interested in a peace process along the lines of what former secretary of state John Kerry tried to orchestrate in 2013 and 2014, when he spent much of his time shuttling between sides in the hope of getting both to the same table.

“The timing for a splashy, high-profile, new set of a negotiations does not seem to be right,” Cotton said. “Quiet confidence- building measures might be appropriate.”

But the senator, who this week traveled to Lebanon, Jordan and Israel for security consultations, acknowledged the fluid nature of the political environment in which Palestinians now find themselves. He questioned whether Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is a true partner for peace, or the last, best hope for a comprehensive agreement, given the apparent dearth of moderate leaders waiting in the wings.

“It’s hard to predict the internal maneuvering of internal Palestinian politics,” Cotton said, but predicted there will be a short period of stasis after Abbas leaves office followed by a “jockeying for power.”

The main purpose of his trip was to discuss the regional activities of Iran, which Cotton has long warned pose the greatest threat to stability in the Middle East. He said that Tehran is “in no small part responsible for the rise of Islamic State,” and harbors “imperial” ambitions that motivate its aggressive policies.

“I was reconfirmed in my belief that the answer to most questions in the Middle East is Iran,” he said.

Cotton has been a vocal critic of the Iran nuclear deal, lamenting its failure to address the Islamic Republic’s nonnuclear behavior. But “the longer-term consequences of the deal, of course, are graver,” he said, referring to sunset clauses in the agreement that allow Iran to grow its nuclear infrastructure to industrial scale in the future.

Along with many of his colleagues across the political spectrum, Cotton fears that US President Donald Trump is eroding his credibility with bombastic rhetoric – on Twitter, to the press and in public statements. Lawmakers have expressed concern that Trump’s erroneous, misleading or outright false statements – such as the claim that his predecessor wiretapped Trump Tower in Manhattan – will make it difficult for Americans and US allies to believe him, should he be forced to speak out in times of crisis.

Would Cotton trust Trump if he tweeted that Iran had violated the nuclear accord?

“I’m confident that if Iran is violating the terms of those deals, and the US government needs to make the case, that the full weight of our intelligence and defense communities will be behind that assessment,” Cotton replied. “Any president reaches those conclusions and goes to the public only when he has the facts behind him.”

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