If my friend Larry Cohler-Esses, who’s the assistant editor of the Jewish Forward, is right, Hassan Rouhani and Barack Obama have already made a significant and substantive breakthrough in U.S.-Iran relations. The critical word above is “if.” Since I respect Larry’s work a great deal and I’d like to be an optimist about the chances of a nuclear deal, naturally I want to believe he’s right. But the devil’s advocate in me is withholding judgment until there is further proof.
The premise for all this is that Larry attended Hassan Rouhani’s eighty-minute press conference at the UN just before he departed for the airport. You’ll recall that just following this event, while he was riding to the airport, Pres. Obama called him and they had that first historic direct conversation since 1979. Larry’s description of Rouhani’s demeanor during the press conference was dramatic and worth recalling:
From the moment the white-turbaned cleric strode into the reception room at New York’s One UN Hotel for the final press conference of his recent New York visit, he projected the air of a man who knows very well what the deal on the table is. And he seems eager to take it.
The process on which he is embarking, he told reporters, will “ensure that the Iranian people can enjoy their rights, and at the same time build confidence in the international community that those rights are being used for peaceful purposes.”
“Within a very short period of time there will be a settlement of the nuclear issue,” he said. “And step-by-step [this will] pave the way for Iran’s better relations with the West, including the expansion of economic ties, the expansion of cultural ties and the expansion of relations between the Western nations and Iran.”
…Rouhani understands quite well what the basic price will be for the end to Iran’s isolation, which is what he seeks. Asked if Iran was “ready to immediately open up its [nuclear] facilities” to put to rest the world’s concerns about their use to build nuclear weapons, he replied promptly that the negotiations “have been set up to serve this purpose.”
That open acknowledgement of the goal is new. Its fulfillment, if achieved, would reverse years of resistance by Iran on this score.
In tandem with this, the United States and other Western countries will come to the Geneva understanding quite well what Iran’s price is for them. And Rouhani was not shy about stating it.
But there was also an Iranian red line:
…He seemed adamant to say that Iran’s price for an agreement is an end to the demand for “zero enrichment” of uranium.
The Israeli position, of course, which Obama has fudged on for several years, is that Iran must have no uranium enrichment at all and not even a remote semblance of a nuclear program. This demand is one of the key differences which set Iran and the west apart on the subject for years.
Now, here is where Larry has developed an interesting idea, if true. He believes that Pres. Obama’s statement that followed the phone call contains a ground-breaking concession to the Iranians:
“I have made clear that we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy in the context of Iran meeting its obligations,” Obama said in the statement. “So the test will be meaningful, transparent, and verifiable actions, which can also bring relief from the comprehensive international sanctions that are currently in place.
What’s on the table now is not a halt to Iran’s uranium enrichment but the terms and conditions for international monitoring of that enrichment, some significant limits on its extent and protocols for international inspections to ensure that whatever enrichment is agreed upon will not enable Iran to divert uranium for nuclear weapons or quickly “break out” into nuclear weapons production.
The key to this statement are those words in italics and how you parse them. Do they mean, as Larry believes, that Obama has conceded Iran’s right to enrich uranium and develop civilian uses for nuclear energy; or do they mean that Obama is only offering Iran “access” to nuclear energy? If he means the latter, then he may only be offering Iran access to other countries’ enriched uranium, which it might use to fuel its own nuclear reactors. If that’s the case, then Iran would not have a uranium enrichment program and would only get the relatively small amounts of fuel it needed from abroad. This is one proposal advanced in the past to bridge the positions of both sides.
I tend to be a skeptic on these matters. There has been so much water under the bridge and so much bad blood, that the idea that both sides may already be offering conciliatory concessions before talks proceed is almost unthinkable. But I do so hope Larry is right. What’s happened over the past few weeks on this score has been grand. Is it too much to hope that our dreams may be realized and forty years of hate and violence may be nearing an end?
In an e-mail, Larry reminded me that Rouhani has bet his presidency on reaching this agreement. I fully agree. Unlike Obama or Bibi or almost any other political leader of the past few decades, Rouhani has a single political goal and has staked his reputation (if not his life) on attaining it. For this reason, he deserves great admiration and respect. If he and Obama do reach a deal, I have no doubt it will be Rouhani standing before the lectern in Oslo next year winning a Nobel Prize. And he, unlike the last recipient, will deserve it.
Larry also correctly notes that if he’s right, Israel will left holding the bag. As I wrote above, its position has been crystal clear and adamant. If Obama has abandoned the Israeli position it would be a remarkable break between two allies between whom there “isn’t an inch of daylight” as Congress’ Aipac water carriers like to say. This could be the break that many of us had hoped for, but never dared believe was possible.
If this is the case, then the howling and screaming from the Israel lobby will be even more harsh than I predicted in my recent posts. Be prepared for a campaign like none you’ve ever seen before from Aipac and its minions. In fact, I’m certain the meeting with Congressional sources have already begun.
Not to mention that Israel too has the ability to launch its own independent attack on Iran. It might be a relatively ineffective one–but that never stopped the IDF before. Indeed, this passage in Alex Fishman’s latest column in Yediot chills the bones:
It is situations like this which give rise to extreme Israeli decisions. If this is the [peace] dynamic at work in Washington next week, this could be precisely the development that leads to renewing the winds of war.
But at this point, one has to wonder–if Israel decides to go to war in the midst of this peace campaign, whether Israeli decision-makers have lost their minds. It would rain down immeasurable opprobrium on Israel and cause enormous sympathy for the Iranians. Could Bibi be that stupid (don’t answer!)?
Returning to Israel’s role, Rouhani has laid down his own card directed at that country. If Iran makes a nuclear deal with the west, then it will be in a position to demand that Israel sign NPT and adhere to the same protocols all signatory nations follow. Rouhani said as much during the press conference. This certainly would be anathema to Israel.
In fact, the Obama administration has been an enabler of Israel’s rejectionist approach on the subject. Several years ago, the U.S. and other NPT nations announced a conference of Mideast signatories at which the subject was to be discussed. Obama’s representatives have torpedoed two attempts at organizing the conference out of fear Israel would be singled out. After a successful deal, the rug will be pulled out from under such machinations. There will have to be a meeting and Israel will have to publicly face the music. Eventually, Israel will either have to join NPT or be rendered even more of a pariah from the world community than it already is.
Kevin Herbert says
I make a habit of always passing on your incisive, factually-based views on Israel & the greater Middle East to those Australian Jews whom I would describe as the ‘Israel can do no wrong’ group. After the Gaza massacre not a single comment was made by this group of mainly over 60’s mainly wealthy to very rich Aussie Jews, nor most disappointingly, the multitude of their overfed offspring. Indeed one of their key boosters, Albert Dadon, is a regular guest of Netanyahu’s in Tel Aviv.
Such is their political influence, and deep pocketed support for Australia’s 2 major parties, that the recently elected Aussie PM phoned the odious Netanyahu immediately after the 7 September last Federal election election, to assure him of Australia’s continuing support…and no doubt to pay off the generous donations to the Liberal’s election campaign by these Aussie far right Zionists.
However, there are a growing number of younger Aussie Jews who are speaking out against the apartheid ethnic cleansing Israeli Government including Antony Loewenstein, Dr Peter Slezak & Independent Australian Jewish Voices. I estimate that around 70% of Aussie Jews under 40 years old, now oppose the the current Israeli Government and its policies….following a similar trend in the US as documented in Dr Norman Finkelstein’s recent scholarly work ‘Knowing Too Much’
Thanks for your excellent scholarship & commentary.
Richard Silverstein says
I have a number of friends & colleagues in Australia including Antony & Sol Salbe. Good people there. I also like AJDS (I think it stands for Australian Jewish Democratic Socialists).
Israel was informed of Obama-Rohani call in advance, briefed after
I too understand talks on the nuclear issue have advanced at the P5+1 meeting in New York last week, on the sidelines of the UNGA. Most likely Rouhani has offered to close down Fordo facility and diminish the number of centrifuges for enrichment. Just recently, the Iranians have taken over the leadership and control of 1,000-megawatt Bushehr nuclear power plant.
In earlier proposals, the Russians were willing to accept the Iranian uranium stockpile and enrich it to fuel grade. See article from 2006 – Enrichment announcement in retaliation to IAEA decision.
ISIS Analysis of Russian Proposal: Ask Iran to Come Clean on Nuclear Weaponization Before Removing Sanctions – August 2011
Gag order lifted: Iranian Spy Arrested in Israel
What a pity that — if the sanctions are lifted against Iran (which was deemed upon uncertain evidence to be breaking treaties in regard to Nukes) — a set of sanctions could not be imposed on Israel (which is known with perfec certainty to be in violation of Fourth Geneva Convention and other treaties mentioned in ICJ-7-2004 qadvisory opinion regarding the illegality of the wall).
I mean, gosh, geez, the3 US loves sanctions (aren’t there still sanctions w.r.t. Cuba?) and Iran and (formerly) Iraq? The USA thinks them a good enforcement mechanism for pushing other folks around. Isn’t it time we pushed Israel around a bit, just a teensy bi8t? (And if not us, maybe EU). (And if not now, then in 2100?).
And lets sanction Turkey and Morocco for their illegal occupations.
And for good meaure, how about a UN General Assembly resolution acknowledging the rights of self determination for Tibetans, Uigurs and Kurds?
Richard Silverstein says
That’s off topic, a violation of comment rules & you are now moderated.
I subscribe to an international Virtual Private Network (VPN) that allows me to change my IP address in about 60 seconds. My name and email address are no less replaceable.
You can moderate or ban J.J. but you cannot stop me from posting. Why waste each other’s time?
Richard Silverstein says
@ J.J.: I only published your last comment so that you & others would understand why you will not publish further comments here. I view anyone visiting here using proxy servers or other methods to conceal their identity as suspect. That means you.
Anyone who taunts me as you have earns an automatic ban. Congratulations!
Netanyahu Already Welcomed by Bipartisan Support
Op-Ed in the Washington Post by Robert Menendez and Lindsey O. Graham. This follows the letter written in August to President Obama by Menendez and Graham, and signed by a total of 76 U.S. Senators, calling for tougher sanctions against Iran.
Body Language – If this photo truly mirrors the mood of Benjamin and Sara Nethanyahu, expect three days of thunder above New York and the District of Columbia. Article in TOI – Netanyahu heads to US, vows to tell ‘the truth’ about Iran.
RE: “This could be the break that many of us had hoped for, but never dared believe was possible. If this is the case, then the howling and screaming from the Israel lobby will be even more harsh than I predicted in my recent posts. Be prepared for a campaign like none you’ve ever seen before from Aipac and its minions. In fact, I’m certain the meeting with Congressional sources have already begun.” ~ R.S.
TAKE ACTION! ! ! HELP FORTIFY OBAMA FOR THE AIPAC/LIKUDIK ONSLAUGHT! ! !
● FROM AMERICANS FOR PEACE NOW
Tell your Senators TODAY: Sign the Feinstein letter on diplomacy with Iran
Last time it was the House; now it’s the Senate.
Last time thousands of APN activists responded to our call to contact their elected members of the House of Representatives and urge them to sign onto a letter supporting reinvigorated U.S. diplomacy with Iran. The result was an historic letter to President Obama, signed by a bipartisan group of 131 members of Congress. Now we are reaching out to you, APN’s activists, once again. This time, we need you to contact your senators and urge them to sign the letter being circulated by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).
Like its House counterpart, Senator Feinstein’s letter boils down to a simple message to President Obama, summarized in the letter’s opening paragraph: “We urge you to seize the opportunity presented by the inauguration of Iran’s new president, Dr. Hassan Rouhani, by reinvigorating diplomatic efforts to secure a verifiable agreement that ensures that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons.” We couldn’t agree more.
Tell your Senators to support diplomacy.
TO EMAIL YOUR SENATORS – http://wfc2.wiredforchange.com/o/8682/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=9354
● FROM FRIENDS COMMITTEE ON NATIONAL LEGISLATION (FCNL):
Your Senators Can Seize New Iran Diplomacy
Senator Dianne Feinstein (CA) is urging Obama to seize the opportunity presented by Iran’s election of Hassan Rouhani
to renew diplomatic efforts with Iran. Will you urge your senators to seize the opportunity to advance a crisis-ending deal with Iran?
TO EMAIL YOUR SENATORS – http://www.capwiz.com/fconl/issues/alert/?alertid=62790056&type=TA
● FROM “JUST FOREIGN POLICY”
Urge Obama: In Iran Diplomacy, Go for a Feasible Deal Now
President Obama committed numerous times to pursuing diplomacy with Iran during the presidential campaign.
While the U.S. and Iran are currently on a path of confrontation, the Obama Administration has reportedly drafted a confidence-building measure in which Iran would halt its 20% uranium enrichment and the West would provide fuel for Iran’s medical research reactor, which is used to treat Iranian cancer patients.
Urge President Obama to vigorously pursue this proposal, using this form. – http://org.salsalabs.com/o/1439/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=9321
● FROM Avaaz.org
To US President Obama and President Rouhani of Iran:
As citizens around the world horrified by the slaughter of innocents in Syria, we call on you to put aside your differences and meet to find a diplomatic path forward that brings all parties to the table to negotiate a ceasefire and peace. You are in a unique position to help broker such a solution. There must be a bold diplomatic breakthrough.
We are calling on you to create one and start saving lives.
TO SIGN THE PETITION – http://www.avaaz.org/en/solution_for_syria_loc/?slideshow