Of deadlines and deals

Kerry has said that contrary to reports, America has no intention of compromising on Iran’s nuclear arms program.

November 10, 2014 21:20
3 minute read.
Kerry and Iranian FM Zarif

US. Secretary of State Kerry and Iranian FM Zarif shake hands as Omani FM Alawi and EU envoy Ashton watch in Muscat.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

As the November 24 deadline for reaching an agreement with Tehran on its nuclear program fast approaches, we are entering a critical period.

It will soon become clear whether the P5+1 nations negotiating with the Iranians will opt for a bad deal over no deal at all. It seems impossible that the Iranians will accept a deal that prevents them from developing nuclear weapons unless a renewed sanctions regime is put in place.

US President Barack Obama, more than any other statesman involved in the negotiations, will determines their outcome. And according to the most recent statements from the president and from Secretary of State John Kerry, there are grave doubts as to whether a deal can be reached that in Obama’s words, secures a “verifiable, locktight” deal that makes sure “they don’t get a nuclear weapon.”

There have been conflicting reports in recent weeks on the degree to which the American president will stand by his promise to ensure that the Islamic Republic does not become a threshold nuclear state and set off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

According to one view, Obama sees a deal – even one that does not provide the limitations and verification needed to prevent Iran from becoming a threshold nuclear state – as an opportunity, perhaps his last, to achieve something in foreign policy based on diplomacy, not the use of American power.

There have been worrying signals that Obama might be willing to compromise with the Iranians in exchange for some sort of agreement – whether in exchange for Tehran’s willingness to enlist in the war against Islamic State or just to normalize business ties with America.

In a letter that Obama reportedly sent last month in secret to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the US president offered to work together against the Islamic State terrorist group in exchange for a deal on Tehran’s nuclear program.

And according to a recent exclusive report by The Times of London, the US and Iran held secret talks on renewing diplomatic and trade ties if a nuclear deal is reached between world powers and Tehran.

Kerry has said that contrary to these reports, America has no intention of compromising on Iran’s nuclear arms program.

“There is no linkage whatsoever of the nuclear discussions with any other issue, and I want to make that absolutely clear,” he said recently. “The nuclear negotiations are on their own, they are standing separate from anything else, and no discussion has ever taken place about linking one thing to another.”

The fact remains, however, that there is a gap between the White House position on Iran’s nuclear program and Israel’s. Speaking this week in Washington at the inaugural conference of the Israeli-American Council, Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer described the difference between the US and Israel over Iran as “serious disagreement.”

While an Iran with nuclear weapons capability is against American interests because it would destabilize the region, start a nuclear arms race among nations like Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia and endanger American lives, for Israel even a modified, defanged Iranian nuclear program presents an existential threat.

Just this weekend, Khamenei posted a tirade against Israel on Twitter using the hashtag #handsoffalaqsa, in reference to the recent tensions on the Temple Mount.

He called for the destruction of Israel.

“This barbaric, wolflike & infanticidal regime of #Israel which spares no crime has no cure but to be annihilated,” Khamenei wrote.

The worst-case scenario from Israel’s point of view would be that the P5+1 signs a bad deal with Tehran that does not stop its nuclear weapons program but which removes sanctions and essentially legitimizes the Islamic Republic as a threshold nuclear state. There is still time to prevent this from happening. All that Obama and the P5+1 nations need do is to allow the November 24 deadline to pass without such an agreement.

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