Israel and the United States are at another hiccup, or maybe something more.
Catherine Ashton, serving as the European Union''s foreign minister and the chair of a meeting in Istanbul between Iran and representatives of Britain, France, Germany, Russia, the United States and China, is upbeat after the first meeting about Iran''s nuclear program.
"We have agreed that the nonproliferation treaty forms a key basis for what must be serious engagement to ensure all the obligations under the treaty are met by Iran while fully respecting Iran''s right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy."
She also said that the meeting provided a basis to establish a "sustained process of serious dialogue."
Ms Ashton received a lashing from Israel''s prime minister for doing little more than setting another meeting, in late May, and giving Iran more time to enrich unaranium without inhibition.
The cartoon in Ha''aretz goes further in criticism, It shows Ashton making a note in her date book along with the Iranian representative, scheduling one further session for May, another in September, 2014, and another in June, 2015.
Ms Ashton receive an earlier drubbing from the prime minister for comments that seemed to link the shooting of children in Toulouse with problems of Palestinians in Gaza. A tape of her comments showed that she did not do that exactly. She lamented the suffering of children in both places and in other locales of violence. However, putting Toulouse and Gaza in the same paragraph was enough to justify at least a pointed question about her intentions, and her suitability for international affairs.
The Washington Post dealt with the Istanbul meeting and Netanyahu''s comments by beginning an article with
"Exposing a rift with Israel, President Barack Obama on Sunday insisted that the U.S. had not “given anything away” in new talks with Iran as he defended his continued push for a diplomatic resolution to the dispute over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions . . . ""So far at least we haven’t given away anything, other than the opportunity for us to negotiate and see if Iran comes to the table in good faith . . . The clock’s ticking."
According to the Jerusalem Post
"US President Barack Obama said there would be more sanctions imposed on Iran if there is no breakthrough in nuclear talks with global powers in the coming months, responding to Israeli accusations that Tehran has been given a "freebie."
Ashton may be a continuing problem, insofar as the Iranians turned down a request from the American delegation for a direct meeting with the Iranian negotiator.
If I were the Iranian in charge of this, I''d stay with Ashton as long as possible.
Catherine Ashton moved into government via a series of appointments, picking up from an earlier career as activist and then manager of activists'' organizations.
There has been enough negative comment in the British press about her, of the kind one seldom reads about ranking figures, to raise the possibility that she was the UK Cabinet''s candidate for an EU position in order to get her away from more important things at home. Various distinguished journals have written
- "a virtual unknown with paltry political experience, having no foreign-policy background and having never been elected to anything".
- "totally unqualified for almost every job she has done, she has risen to her current position presumably through . . . down-the-line Stalinist political correctness . . . :"
- "Cathy just got lucky... (her) appointment was a complete disgrace. (She is) no more than (a) garden gnome."
Sources within the EU:
- criticiized her failure to visit Haiti in the wake of the earthquake
- said that she lacked leadership abilities during ministerial meetings and policy briefing
- speaks only in generalities
- lacks commitment to the job, switching off her phone after 8 pm every day
- is unable to speak any language other than English
A survey of EU policymakers and national officials at the beginning of 2011 Ashton rated as the worst of European Commissioners.
Among the unpleasant possibilities:
- Last weekend''s meeting at Istanbul, and what comes next, will be little more than the blah blah expected of Ashton.
- Obama is made of the same stuff as Ashton, and is over his head whenever he deals with an issue more than 200 miles east of Washington. The latest indication of this comes from the editor of a well-known Arab newspaper, who has ridiculed American officials for seeming to place some credence in a leading Iranian''s claim that there is a fatwa (religious ruling) against the development of nuclear weapons.
- Netanyahu''s comments may or may not signal the start of counting down to an Israeli attack.
- The prime minister may only be reminding Americans and others about Israeli impatience or anxiety
- Perhaps, however, he is renewing a threat of independent action.
There are also some positive possibilities.
- Obama is serious about pressuring Iran to rid itself of nuclear weapon aspirations.
- Obama''s stopping the food aid to North Korea in response to its long range missile test may indicate his determination, and should warn the Iranians about greater sanctions, or even more.
So many possibilities.
So little certainty.