Former Obama adviser: Public Israel-US spat only strengthens Iran’s hand

Gary Samore, ex-key member of president's national security team, warns in 'Post' interview against dissension in coalition opposing Iran.

Netanyahu looks serious while Obama speaks 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Jason Reed)
Netanyahu looks serious while Obama speaks 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Jason Reed)
Jerusalem and Washington’s spat over Iran policy could make a final agreement with Tehran harder, since Iran may believe it is breaking up the coalition against it, a former key member of US President Barack Obama’s national security team said Wednesday.
“I think when there is a public split between the US and Israel it gives the Iranians some confidence,” said Gary Samore, who served during Obama’s first term as the White House coordinator for Arms Control and Weapons of Mass Destruction, often referred to as Obama’s WMD “czar.”
“I don’t want to give them courage or a sense that they are prevailing,” he said. “To the extent that they see dissension in the ranks of the coalition that opposes them, it makes it more difficult to negotiate an agreement because they think their hand is stronger. I would prefer to present as solid a front as possible.”
When asked whether Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was making a tactical error by continuously slamming the recent interim agreement reached in Geneva, Samore said “It seems to me that the normal way in which allies work together is through confidential diplomatic channels.”
Gary Semore, former Obama adviser Photo: Reuters
Gary Semore, former Obama adviser Photo: Reuters
The risk of taking the disagreement so public, he said, is that Netanyahu might “antagonize people to the point where they stop listening to his arguments, some of which have a lot of merit.”
He said that as an American who thinks Israel is “a good ally,” he would prefer trying to work through these disagreements privately “instead of through public accusations.”
With that, he said, he did not think the current disagreement would cause any permanent damage to Israeli- US ties.
“I think it’s time for everyone to sort of recognize that this deal is done, and what we should focus on now is how we take advantage of the next six months to get additional concessions out of Iran,” he advised.
During a 45 minute interview with The Jerusalem Post, Samore, who is currently at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, walked a fine line between saying that the Geneva accord was a good move and acknowledging he had no illusions that diplomacy would provide a final fix to the Iranian nuclear program.
“I personally doubt very much that a final agreement can be reached in six months, because the two sides are so far apart on the really essential issues,” he said.
Samore was in the country to take part in discussions by a new group called the Forum for an Israeli Grand Strategy.
The forum consists of some 70 local academics and experts across a wide variety of fields who have been meeting discreetly since May to formulate a grand national strategy for Israel at a time of dramatic global change.
Samore took part in the discussion as part of cooperation between the forum and Harvard.
The Geneva agreement, he said, has set the stage for much more difficult negotiations over a final deal, as Iran already said it would not dismantle any nuclear facilities while Obama declared that the terms of any final agreement would have to “make it impossible for Iran to build nuclear weapons.”
Samore called the Geneva deal a first step, saying he could imagine a situation where it would lead to a “pause” in Iran’s program for a couple of years, although “at the end of that the Iranians may very well walk away from the deal.”
Asked what would have been gained, he said that “you’ve gained a couple of years, which is better than the alternative.”
He said he could also envision a “rolling process” or a series of “interim agreements that imposes limits and constraints and delays on Iran’s program in exchange for limitations on sanctions, but which does not fundamentally solve the problem.”
He said it was possible that this problem could be passed on to the next US president, just as George W. Bush passed it on to Obama.
Were it not for the current pause, Samore said, “we would be continuing with the sanctions pressure and they would continue with their nuclear program, and of course they could expand the program pretty rapidly and that could take you to the point where you would have to make a decision” on a military strike.
“Obama does not want to have to make that decision,” Samore stressed. “He wants to push off that moment of decision, and that is what this does – it delays the crucial moment where there is a crisis.”
Delays, he added, had been the overall strategy against Iran for years – through diplomacy, pressure, threat and covert activity. At some point in time, he explained, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will die and there will be a new leader who might, or might not, change Iran’s nuclear policy.
“We don’t have a guarantee,” Samore said. “I don’t think we can fundamentally change the motivation of the supreme leader (to have a military nuclear program). All we can do is make the price of obtaining it so high that he refrains from giving the order to produce a bomb, which is what has happened until now.”
He added that both Israeli and US officials concurred that it would take the Iranians about a year to actually assemble a bomb – something that would be very difficult to hide and that would give the US ample time to act.