Every Nation Is Just Posturing on Iran

Yes, there are differences, but they’re not as big as the diplomats have made them seem. And they probably won’t stop a temporary nuclear deal.

Secretary of State John Kerry gestures during a press conference closing three days of talks on Iran's nuclear programme, on November 10, 2013 in Geneva.
National Journal
Michael Hirsh
See more stories about...
Michael Hirsh
Nov. 11, 2013, 6:03 a.m.

Ben­jamin Net­an­yahu is pos­tur­ing on Ir­an. The Is­raeli prime min­is­ter is ful­min­at­ing over a pro­spect­ive nuc­le­ar deal and ap­pears to be threat­en­ing to scuttle the already-stum­bling talks with the Palestini­ans if Sec­ret­ary of State John Kerry agrees to ease sanc­tions on Ir­an. Ever since he first met then-can­did­ate Barack Obama in mid-2008, Net­an­yahu has lumped the Ir­an and Palestini­an is­sues to­geth­er and in­sisted they be solved se­quen­tially — Ir­an first, then peace and state­hood. “If Ir­an be­came nuc­le­ar it would mean the vic­tory of the mil­it­ants in Hamas and Hezbol­lah and un­der­cut the mod­er­ates,” Uzi Arad, Net­an­yahu’s then-na­tion­al se­cur­ity ad­visor, ex­plained to me then. So Net­an­yahu now has an ex­cuse to put off the is­sue of Palestini­an state­hood yet again, even though do­ing so might be shoot­ing him­self in the foot, demo­graph­ic­ally speak­ing. (A one-state solu­tion, however sat­is­fy­ing to hawks, still turns Is­rael in­to a Middle East ver­sion of an apartheid state.)

And whatever threats Net­an­yahu might make about Is­raeli mil­it­ary ac­tion against Ir­an, he knows that’s not go­ing to hap­pen in the middle of these ne­go­ti­ations. Nor is it likely to any time soon: the Is­raeli PM’s mar­tial bluster can’t hide the fact that most of Is­rael’s de­fense/in­tel­li­gence ap­par­at­us is res­ist­ing a strike — be­cause an at­tack could, in the end achieve the pre­cise op­pos­ite of what Is­rael needs. It might dam­age Ir­an’s nuc­le­ar fa­cil­it­ies only par­tially, mar­gin­al­ize the mod­er­ates in Tehran, and send Ir­an ra­cing at an even great­er rate to­ward a bomb, many Is­raeli of­fi­cials fear.

The French, too, are pos­tur­ing on Ir­an. Par­is gets piqued when it’s not fully con­sul­ted on ma­jor Middle East is­sues, es­pe­cially since it has taken a mus­cu­lar lead in ad­dress­ing re­cent flash­points from Libya to Mali. French Pres­id­ent Fran­cois Hol­lande and his for­eign min­is­ter, Laurent Fabi­us, were un­happy about Amer­ica’s ap­par­ent eager­ness to spear­head a deal with Tehran, fol­low­ing Obama’s un­ex­pec­ted and em­bar­rass­ing re­versal over at­tack­ing Syr­ia just a day after Hol­lande had sup­por­ted U.S. ac­tion. The French led pre­vi­ous ef­forts to ne­go­ti­ate sus­pen­sion of en­rich­ment with Tehran go­ing back to 2003 — long be­fore Wash­ing­ton joined the pro­cess — so U.S. ef­forts to dic­tate policy today in both Syr­ia and Ir­an are seen as an af­front to re­stored Gal­lic pride. And the French rel­ish their new­found in­flu­ence in the re­gion; they knew they could curry fa­vor with the Saudis and their new bud­dies, the Is­rael­is, as well as anti-Ir­an Gulf states, by play­ing the hard guys.

Yet Kerry, in re­marks made in Abu Dh­abi on Monday, said the dif­fer­ences between the Amer­ic­an and French po­s­i­tions were ex­ag­ger­ated, and a French of­fi­cial agreed that for the most part the two coun­tries were still present­ing a “united front.” “[We were] uni­fied on Sat­urday when we presen­ted a pro­pos­al to the Ir­a­ni­ans,” Kerry said, “and the French signed off on it, we signed off on it, and every­body agreed it was a fair pro­pos­al. There was unity, but Ir­an couldn’t take it at that par­tic­u­lar on mo­ment, they wer­en’t able to ac­cept that par­tic­u­lar thing.”

The Ir­a­ni­ans are pos­tur­ing, too. No mat­ter how badly the sanc­tions are bit­ing, New Pres­id­ent Has­san Rouh­ani and For­eign Min­is­ter Mo­hammad Javad Za­rif are on a very short leash when it comes to con­ces­sions they can make, a point punc­tu­ated by the latest mut­ter­ings of Ayatol­lah Ali Khame­nei and oth­er hard­line of­fi­cials and Rouh­ani’s de­fens­ive in­sist­ence on Ir­an’s “right” to urani­um en­rich­ment. Khame­nei could yank that leash sum­mar­ily if Rouh­ani and Za­rif give up too much at once, in­clud­ing the on­go­ing con­struc­tion of the heavy-wa­ter Arak re­act­or, for a gradu­al eas­ing of sanc­tions that does not quickly de­liv­er a boost to Ir­an’s tot­ter­ing eco­nomy.

So des­pite some real is­sues at stake, the fail­ure to reach agree­ment over the week­end in Geneva was really about the fact that there were just too many polit­ic­al sens­it­iv­it­ies at stake for the quick res­ol­u­tion of a ten-year-old con­flict. The Amer­ic­ans need time to ap­pease their most nervous al­lies in the re­gion, es­pe­cially the Is­rael­is; the French need to sat­is­fy their pride; and the Ir­a­ni­an ne­go­ti­at­ors need to as­suage the Is­lam­ist mil­it­ants at home who are snarling at their backs. “After ten years, we can wait an­oth­er ten days,” said one dip­lo­mat, re­fer­ring to the sched­uled re­sump­tion of talks on Nov. 20.

Non­ethe­less, the signs are that all sides badly want this deal, which will likely en­tail a six-month freeze of Ir­an’s en­rich­ment to weapons-grade urani­um in ex­change for par­tial eas­ing of sanc­tions, and that it will prob­ably hap­pen in the com­ing months, as Kerry boldly sug­ges­ted. Re­ports Monday sug­ges­ted that a new deal with U.N. in­spect­ors could open Arak to mon­it­or­ing, which might be enough to pa­per over the dif­fer­ences on that prob­lem.

The much big­ger is­sue is what will come after a tem­por­ary deal is struck.

{{ BIZOBJ (video: 4560) }}

What We're Following See More »
A DARK CLOUD OVER TRUMP?
Snowstorm Could Impact Primary Turnout
2 days ago
THE LATEST

A snowstorm is supposed to hit New Hampshire today and “linger into Primary Tuesday.” GOP consultant Ron Kaufman said lower turnout should help candidates who have spent a lot of time in the state tending to retail politicking. Donald Trump “has acknowledged that he needs to step up his ground-game, and a heavy snowfall could depress his figures relative to more organized candidates.”

Source:
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY
A Shake-Up in the Offing in the Clinton Camp?
2 days ago
THE DETAILS

Anticipating a primary loss in New Hampshire on Tuesday, Hillary and Bill Clinton “are considering staffing and strategy changes” to their campaign. Sources tell Politico that the Clintons are likely to layer over top officials with experienced talent, rather than fire their staff en masse.

Source:
THE LAST ROUND OF NEW HAMPSHIRE POLLS
Trump Is Still Ahead, but Who’s in Second?
1 days ago
THE LATEST

We may not be talking about New Hampshire primary polls for another three-and-a-half years, so here goes:

  • American Research Group’s tracking poll has Donald Trump in the lead with 30% support, followed by Marco Rubio and John Kasich tying for second place at 16%. On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders leads Hillary Clinton 53%-41%.
  • The 7 News/UMass Lowell tracking poll has Trump way out front with 34%, followed by Rubio and Ted Cruz with 13% apiece. Among the Democrats, Sanders is in front 56%-40%.
  • A Gravis poll puts Trump ahead with 28%, followed by Kasich with 17% and Rubio with 15%.
IT’S ALL ABOUT SECOND PLACE
CNN Calls the Primary for Sanders and Trump
1 days ago
THE LATEST

Well that didn’t take long. CNN has already declared Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump the winners of the New Hampshire primary, leaving the rest of the candidates to fight for the scraps. Five minutes later, the Associated Press echoed CNN’s call.

Source:
×