Obama, Netanyahu openly at odds again over Iran

Israel has taken hard line on nuclear weapons negotiations with Iran.

obama and netanyahu_521 (photo credit: Bloomberg)
obama and netanyahu_521
(photo credit: Bloomberg)
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu left Washington in March having reportedly arrived at a coordinated strategy with US President Barack Obama on how to handle the growing Iranian nuclear threat. But gaps have appeared once again in their respective approaches to the ayatollahs’ drive for atomic weapons, as Israeli leaders fear Tehran is once again using renewed talks to string out the West and move closer to the nuclear threshold.
Not long after Obama hosted Netanyahu at the White House in March, the P5+1 nations (the US, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China) agreed to conduct another round of talks with Iran to see if tightening sanctions have finally softened up the clerical regime for a possible compromise. The first round of negotiations was held in Istanbul in April and ended with an agreement to meet again in five weeks in Baghdad.
Netanyahu responded with open skepticism, saying the US and other world powers had basically given Tehran a “freebie” by conceding Iran “five weeks to continue enrichment without any limitation, any inhibition.”
Within hours, this characterization had drawn a sharp retort from Obama.
“The notion that somehow we’ve given something away or a ‘freebie’ would indicate Iran has gotten something,” Obama said while on a visit to Colombia. “In fact, they’ve got some of the toughest sanctions that they’re going to be facing coming up in just a few months if they don’t take advantage of these talks.”
Still, Israeli officials stood by Netanyahu’s initial comments, saying it was important for him to put Israel’s position out there – that Israel does not want to see the Iranians draw the world into a game where each meeting brings a five or six week respite until the next, during which Iran will continue enriching uranium and developing its nuclear program.
The following week, Defense Minister Ehud Barak backed up Netanyahu’s position in a CNN interview just prior to meeting with US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey in Washington.
“The Iranians have a history of deceiving the world, sometime through steps like this. So we are a little bit skeptical.”
Barak even mentioned the Islamic concept of takkiya, which he said grants Muslims the right to lie in order to deceive non-Muslims, for the sake of the religion.
Barak added that if Iran were to stop enriching uranium past 20 percent, move their 20% enriched uranium to a friendly country, decommission their new underground installation in Qom and agree to IAEA conditions, Israel would be satisfied. “If this threshold is not set at the opening of negotiations, they will never be met,” he cautioned.
The tough Israeli line may be driven by reports circulating among Washington insiders that the Obama administration is seeking a compromise deal with Iran that would stabilize gas prices, show foreign policy acumen and thereby help the president’s reelection bid this fall.
Leaked information also began appearing in the American press regarding Israeli plans to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities, raising suspicions in Jerusalem that the Obama administration was intentionally trying to undermine potential Israeli military action. The most sensitive leak was a report in the journal Foreign Policy citing several US officials as claiming thatIsrael had gained permission to use air bases in Azerbaijan from which to attack Iran.
Former US diplomat John Bolton accused the Obama administration on Fox News of deliberately leaking the information, saying it was part of “this administration’s campaign against an Israeli attack.”
Whether all these rumors and reports are accurate or not, there are signs indicating the Iranians may be interested in striking a deal that lifts sanctions while also salvaging key components of their nuclear program for the sake of national pride.
For instance, Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said Iran is ready to resolve all nuclear issues “very quickly and simply” in the next round of talks in Baghdad on May 23 if the West starts lifting sanctions.
Influential Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, secretary of the powerful Guardian Council, also praised the recent nuclear talks as showing “success and progress.”