Oren upbeat about West-Iran dialogue

Israels man in Washingt

Ambassador to the US Michael Oren on Friday welcomed the arrangements worked out between America and other world powers with Iran the day before, in some of the first comments by an Israel official on the talks. He referred to Iran's agreement to allow inspectors into its recently revealed secret nuclear facility in Qom as well as apparent willingness to transfer much of its enriched uranium to other countries for processing into nuclear fuel as "several important and rather positive developments." The agreement came after Thursday's landmark meeting between Iran and the US, Russia, China, Britain, Germany and France over Teheran's nuclear program. The meeting was the first in US President Barack Obama's engagement program, with another set for the end of the month. "The news appears to be good," Oren said, but he added that "we have to be very, very guarded about this and keep in mind this is a regime that has systematically lied about its nuclear program for the last 25 years, it has lied recently and we assume it will continue to lie." In the past Israeli officials have expressed skepticism over Obama's approach of diplomatic outreach. But Oren said Friday that Jerusalem backed the Obama administration's strategy, explaining that "we have basically agreed to extend this support in return for guarantees that talks with Iranian leaders would not be open-ended, that there would be an eye on the enrichment clock, which continues to tick." Oren was speaking to the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the UJC/Jewish Federations of North America ahead of Succot, and also touched on the peace process and the UN's Goldstone Report on the IDF's offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip nine months ago. He noted that Israel was close consulting with the US administration about working out the details to resume peace talks, saying that much of the recent conversation between high-ranking Israeli officials and US Middle East envoy George Mitchell in Washington last week consisted of "far-reaching discussions on the nature of the negotiations" once they were resumed. The two sides were addressing issues including whether final-status issues such as Jerusalem and refugees would come up early on, the extent to which the United States would be involved and whether bilateral Israeli-Palestinian talks would be supported by multi-lateral talks with other countries on topics such as water, energy and security. Oren described the conversation as "very positive," saying these complex issues are "being thrashed out with a tremendous amount of imagination, goodwill and a constructive attitude." Similarly, he characterized the three-way meeting of Obama, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas last week as "good discussions" despite some "initial trepidation" over the encounter. The United States had hoped to create a package whereby Israel would announce a settlement freeze, Palestinians would end incitement and continue with security reforms and the Arab states would make gestures toward Israel as part of relaunching negotiations. The White House had to settle for the trilateral meeting, the first between Netanyahu and Abbas in their current roles. But Oren indicated Israel was continuing to work with Mitchell on a formula for a settlement freeze, describing it as temporary and allowing for natural growth and for certain ongoing projects to be completed. Oren concluded his remarks by stressing how pleased Israel was with the US criticism of the Goldstone Report and its efforts to keep the United Nations from taking action based on its findings of Israeli violations during the Gaza war last winter. He particularly lauded the US statement on the report. "It could have been drafted in Tel Aviv, it was so wonderful. The statement upheld the morality of the IDF, it upheld Israel's right to defend itself against terror, it upheld the integrity of the Israeli legal system," Oren said. "I spent several hours calling people in Washington, thanking them [for being] willing to show such courage and such commitment to the US-Israel alliance. It was very, very inspiring."