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Compare and contrast the following three events: At the International Atomic Energy Agency's Board of Governors meeting on Wednesday, George Schulte, the US ambassador to the IAEA, pointed an accusatory finger at Syria. Damascus, Schulte said, has not come clean on its nuclear program. That program, of course, was exposed in September 2007 when Israel reportedly destroyed Syria's North Korean-built, Iranian-financed al-Kibar nuclear reactor.
In its report to its Board of Governors, the IAEA stated that in analyzing soil samples from the bombed installation, its inspectors discovered traces of uranium. The nuclear watchdog agency also noted that the Syrians have blocked UN nuclear inspectors from the site and from three other suspected nuclear sites.
Reacting to the IAEA report, Schulte said that it "contributes to the growing evidence of clandestine nuclear activities in Syria."
He added, "We must understand why such [uranium] material - material not previously declared to the IAEA - existed in Syria, and this can only happen if Syria provides the cooperation requested."
On Tuesday, at a press conference in Jerusalem with outgoing Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, visiting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the Obama administration is sending two senior envoys to Damascus. Their job, as she put it, is to begin "preliminary conversations" on how to jumpstart US-Syrian bilateral ties.
Clinton's statement made good headlines, but she was light on details. On Wednesday, hours after Schulte accused Syria of covering up its illicit nuclear program, US Sen. John Kerry helpfully filled in the blanks about the nature of the Obama administration's overtures to nuclear-proliferating Damascus. In an address before the left-leaning Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institute in Washington, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who just returned from a visit to Syria, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, said that the purpose of US overtures to Damascus is to appease Syrian President Bashar Assad.
If in the past, both American and Israeli policy-makers interested in engaging Damascus have made ending Syria's alliance with Iran a central goal of their proposed engagement, Kerry dismissed such an aim as unrealistic. In his words, "We should have no illusions that Syria will immediately end its ties with Iran."
Indeed, as far as Kerry is concerned, Syria's role in these talks is not to actually give the US anything of value. Rather, Syria's role is to take things of value from the US - and of course from Israel.
Kerry proposed that in exchange for Syrian acceptance of the US's offer of friendship and Assad's willingness to negotiate an Israeli surrender of the Golan Heights, America should consider "loosening certain sanctions" against Syria. Doing so, he claimed, will also be good for the US economy because it will open new opportunities for US businesses.
ON THE surface, the disparate statements by Schulte, Clinton and Kerry present us with a puzzle. In Geneva, Schulte noted that Syria is a nuclear proliferating rogue state that has refused to cooperate with UN inspectors. And in Jerusalem and Washington, Clinton and Kerry ignored Syria's dangerous actions, and advocated a policy of appeasement.
At the same IAEA Board of Governors meeting this week, the agency reported that Iran has produced more than a thousand kilograms of low enriched uranium - enough to build a bomb after further enrichment. That enrichment can be completed by year's end with Iran's 5,600 centrifuges. Moreover, between the Russian-built, soon-to-be-opened nuclear reactor in Bushehr and the illicit heavy water reactor in Arak, Iran will have the capacity to build plutonium-based bombs within two years.
Commenting on the IAEA's report on Iran, Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledged that Iran has enough uranium for a bomb. Seemingly contradicting Mullen, Defense Secretary Robert Gates claimed that there is no reason to worry about all that uranium because Iran won't have a bomb for some time, given that the uranium it possesses is not sufficiently enriched to make a weapon.
For his part, US President Barack Obama is receiving guidance on contending with Iran from former Congressman Lee Hamilton, who co-authored the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group report published in December 2006. That report called for the US to coordinate the withdrawal of its forces from Iraq with Iran and Syria - the principal sponsors of both the Shi'ite and Sunni insurgencies in the country. It recommended that the US purchase Syria's good will by pressuring Israel to surrender the Golan Heights to Damascus, and Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem to Hamas. It recommended that the US win Iran's trust by accepting it as a nuclear power and pledging not to overthrow the regime.
In an interview last month with Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, Hamilton reiterated those recommendations. He claimed that the starting point for US-Iran discussions is for the US to "state our respect for the Iranian people, renounce regime change as an instrument of US policy, seek opportunities for a range of dialogue across a range of issues, and acknowledge Iran's security concerns and its right to civilian nuclear power."
Hamilton assured Ignatius that these recommendations have been adopted by the White House.
ALL OF the above show that there is no contradiction between what the Obama administration understands about Iran and Syria and the policy it has adopted toward them. Specifically, as Schulte's and Mullen's statements make clear, the administration is aware of the dangers that both Iran and Syria constitute to global security. And as Clinton, Kerry, Gates and Hamilton all make clear, the administration's policy for dealing with those dangers is to change the subject and hope the American public won't notice or mind.
To this end, the administration is now asserting that Iran and Syria - the two most active agents of regional instability - share the US's interest in a stable, democratic Iraq. And owing to their sudden devotion to stability, Obama's surrogates tell us the Syrians and Iranians will support the new anti-Syrian and anti-Iranian Iraqi democracy and even protect it after the US withdraws its forces from the country.
Then, too, as both Kerry and Clinton made clear, the administration plans to ignore Syria's support for Iraqi, Palestinian and Lebanese terrorism, its nuclear proliferation activities and its massive ballistic missile arsenal, as well as its strategic alliance with Iran. Rather than confront Syria about its bad behavior, the administration favors a policy based on making believe that in his heart of hearts, Assad is a liberal democrat who aspires to peace, and hope, and change.
But the core of the administration's campaign to ignore Iran's nuclear program - as well as Syria's - is its unrelenting quest for the big payoff: Palestinian statehood.
This week Iran staged yet another "Destroy Israel" conference in Teheran, replete with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's trademark Holocaust denial, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's ritual castigation of the Jewish state as a "cancerous tumor," and the US as a treacherous enemy, and Ali Larijani's threat to attack Israel's suspected nuclear sites. The conference enjoyed a newfound sense of international legitimacy, taking place as it did just after burka-clad Annette Bening's goodwill Hollywood celebrity visit to the mullocracy.
THE GENOCIDAL pageantry in Teheran elicited no significant response from Clinton and Kerry. They had bigger fish to fry. While the administration and its supporters seem to believe that the US has no right to make demands on Iran and Syria, which, they assert, are both just advancing their national interests, for them Israel is a completely different story. As Clinton and Kerry demonstrated this week, the administration and its supporters will not stop making demands on Israel.
Kerry justified Syria's continued alliance with Iran by saying that Syria should be expected to "play both sides of the fence [with the US and Iran] as other nations do when they believe it is in their interests."
But Israel has no right to similarly take what action it deems necessary to secure its interests. In Kerry's view, the time has come for the US to show that it is serious about Palestinian statehood, and the way to do that is to force Israel to block all Jewish building in Judea and Samaria.
In his words, "On the Israeli side, nothing will do more to make clear our seriousness about turning the page than demonstrating - with actions rather than words - that we are serious about Israel freezing settlement activity in the West Bank."
He also called for the US to compel Israel to open its borders with Gaza. And he said that from his perspective, it is unacceptable for the incoming Netanyahu government not to embrace establishing a Palestinian state as its most urgent goal.
Clinton joined Kerry in his efforts to compel the Jewish state to ignore its national interests in the cause of the higher goal of Palestinian statehood. Like him, she attacked Israel for not handing control over its borders with Gaza to Hamas. And like Kerry, she stated repeatedly that her greatest goal is to establish a Palestinian state.
Clinton's unique contribution to that great "pro-peace" endeavor this week was her outspoken criticism on Wednesday of the Jerusalem Municipality's decision to enforce the city's building and planning ordinances equally toward both Jews and Arabs. That policy was made clear this week when city inspectors destroyed illegal buildings in both Jewish and Arab neighborhoods.
Since as far as Clinton is concerned, Israel will one day be required to throw all the Jews out of East, South and North Jerusalem to make room for what she believes is the "inevitable" Palestinian state, Israel has no right to treat Arabs and Jews equally in its soon-to-be-inevitably divided capital city. Arabs should be allowed to break the law at will. When Israel insists on enforcing its laws without prejudice, Clinton condemns it for being anti-peace.
Kerry argues that by forcing Israel to give its land to the Palestinians, the US will be promoting regional stability by doing the bidding of anti-Iranian Arab states like Egypt and Saudi Arabia. But even if putting the screws to Israel makes Cairo and Riyadh happy, their happiness will have no impact whatsoever on Iran's nuclear weapons programs or on Syria's proliferation activities. That is, Israeli land giveaways will have no impact on regional stability.
And that's precisely the point. The Obama administration has no intention of preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power or Syria from maintaining its alliance with the mullahs. The White House seeks far more modest ends.
Through its policies toward Israel on the one hand and Iran and Syria on the other, the Obama administration demonstrates that it has already accepted a nuclear Iran. Its chief concern today is to avoid being blamed when the mushroom clouds appear in the sky. And it may well achieve that aim. After all, how could the administration be blamed for a nuclear Iran when it has wholly devoted its efforts to advancing the righteous cause of peace?