This article originally appeared at LobeLog, just a few hours after the Iran nuclear interim agreement was announced.
Catherine Ashton and Mohammed Zarif at the UN in September
These are my initial thoughts on the deal struck between the P5+1 (the U.S., Britain, France, China, and Russia plus Germany) and Iran. They come after a few hours of watching the speeches, reading the briefings from the US State Department and the White House and some heavy-duty work on Twitter, both reading and writing (check my feed at @MJPlitnick if you’d like to see some of it).
1. There are going to be tough political battles in both Washington and Tehran. But the reality is that pretty much everything the P5+1 has granted can be reversed at the figurative snap of a finger. If Iran dilutes or converts all of its 20% enriched stockpile, it will take time to build that back up. From the point of view of a hardliner in Iran, when that point is combined with the complete halt to work at Arak, the total halt to enrichment above 5%, the freeze on new centrifuges and limits on replacement and the earlier agreement Iran struck with the IAEA (which happened outside of the Geneva process, so there was no quid pro quo), this is a very long list of concessions. In exchange, Iran gets only minor sanctions relief, potentially worth as much as only $7 billion and an agreement that the West will leave the limit on Iran’s oil revenue where it is. Continue reading
Discussing his outspoken opposition to diplomacy with Iran, Republican Senator Mark Kirk said in a phone briefing for his supporters: “It’s the reason why I ran for the Senate, [it] is all wrapped up in this battle. I am totally dedicated to the survival of the state of Israel in the 21st century.” This is an important statement, and one which bears intense scrutiny at a time when the Obama Administration is trying to walk the United States back from a war footing with Iran, against the wishes of Saudi Arabia, the Gulf monarchies and, especially, Israel and its domestic allies.
I hurried to congratulate my colleagues, Ali Gharib and Eli Clifton, for their reporting on Kirk’s private briefing call. I tweeted the following: “Thanks to @AliGharib and @EliClifton, we have Mark Kirk on record stating that he values Israeli interests over US’.” Naturally, I was attacked for “questioning Kirk’s loyalty.” I certainly confess; Twitter is a place for shorthand and bombastic statements, and no doubt, Kirk’s position is more complicated vis a vis US vs. Israeli interests. That’s why the interaction I had with a more sober-minded individual around this, Prof. Brent Sasley of the University of Texas at Arlington, was more probative. Continue reading
This article originally appeared at LobeLog. For further illustration of this issue, see my article from November 15 at Souciant.
There’s a showdown coming, and the outcome may determine how the US runs its foreign policy in the Middle East, at least for the next three years and perhaps much longer.
The issues at hand are both immediate and long-term, and both involve an awful lot of “daylight” between the positions of the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government in Israel. The very top of the Israeli government, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and far-right “kingmaker,” Minister of Industry, Trade and Labor Naftali Bennett, has launched a full-scale attack on the policies of Barack Obama. They have dispensed with the fiction that Israel is not a domestic US issue and have brought into the light of day the enormous influence they have in Congress. Continue reading
The Obama Administration has never had the best relationship with Israel. Benjamin Netanyahu has never hidden his disdain for Barack Obama, and worked for his defeat in 2012. But the level of invective between the US and Israel in recent days is quite unprecedented.
No doubt, a lot of this has to do with Netanyahu’s inability to chart a course for Israel that includes resolution of any of its conflicts–either diplomatically as the center-left would prefer or by massive exercise of force, as the right favors. Instead, he has chosen a path of perpetual conflict, which has not sat well in Washington and Brussels, where the past decade has whetted their appetites to turn attention elsewhere and, most of all, to extricate themselves from the spreading conflicts and increasingly hostile politics in the Middle East.
But a good deal also is due to an apparent determination on the parts of Obama and John Kerry to change the way the US pursues its agenda in the Mideast. Despite the hysteria of those, such as Abe Foxman, Malcolm Hoenlein, David Harris and Netanyahu himself, who prefer to see Israel in perpetual conflict, the US is not about to abandon Israel, nor its new BFF, Saudi Arabia. But Obama’s opponent in ’12, Mitt Romney, actually laid out the issue very well. When he describes how he would decide on US foreign policy in the Mideast, he said his first step would be to phone his friend, Netanyahu. That’s actually how it has worked for some time, and Obama is trying to change that, though the odds are against his success. I explore in Souciant.
In times of grave economic crisis, progressive groups have historically found an opening. This time, over the past five years, liberals and leftists have been left flailing away while the far right moved in to cause a seismic shift in American politics. I explore some whys and wherefores of this at Souciant this week.