With the price of gasoline rising, and President Barack Obama’s reelection prospects sinking, delaying a showdown with Iran and ratcheting down regional tensions has become a political necessity for this administration. The question is: can the Israel lobby scuttle revived negotiations?
That the participants came out of the 12-hour Istanbul meeting with reports of progress – and an agreement to meet again, on May 23, in Baghdad – is good news that must be taken in context. It’s been over a year since negotiators met, and the last round ended with both sides engaging in public recriminations, leading to the present impasse. This time around, the Iranians seemed fully engaged, and quite specific about what they are willing to discuss: and while such hot topics as the enrichment issue and increased IAEA access to Iranian nuclear facilities were politely danced around in public, all parties praised the meeting as "constructive."
Most important, from the Iranian perspective, is that the talks are to go forward within the context of the Nonproliferation Treaty, to which Iran is a signatory – and Israel, its chief antagonist, is not. Under the terms of the NPT, Iran has the right to create a peaceful – i.e. energy-oriented – nuclear program, which is what they have been insisting has been their goal all along. An agreement within this framework would underscore the Israelis’ unwillingness to sign the NPT, or to even admit the existence of their substantial nuclear arsenal.
It was only a matter of hours before the Israelis responded with typical peevishness. Meeting with Sen. Joe Lieberman, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took a swing at Obama and the Europeans:
"My initial impression is that Iran has been given a freebie. It’s got five weeks to continue enrichment without any limitation, any inhibition."
As if Iran could create a nuclear weapon in five weeks time, even if it wanted to do so. This is par for the course for Netanyahu and Israel’s political leaders, whose constant harping on the alleged "existential threat" of an imaginary Iranian nuke has been a single note of hysteria sounded throughout the past few years, like an annoyingly defective car alarm the neighbors have learned to ignore. Time and again they have announced Tehran is "on the verge" of acquiring a nuclear arsenal: in two years, a year, in six months – the ticking of this purported time-bomb has been going on so long it has become just so much background noise. The Israelis have cried wolf once too often.
The Iranians refrained from lecturing Western diplomats in Istanbul, and their chief negotiator reportedly hinted at significant concessions on the key issues of enrichment and IAEA access. For their part, Western negotiators – particularly the Europeans, who are leading the effort – are apparently for the first time taking the Iranian Supreme Leader’s fatwa against nukes seriously. The P-5-plus-1, represented by EU foreign policy honcho and former CND’er Catherine Ashton, opened the meeting with a declaration affirming Iran’s right under the NPT to develop peaceful nuclear applications.
Ashton is hated by the Israelis, and they are likely to open their propaganda campaign against the negotiations by going after her as biased against the perceived interests of the Jewish state. The usual suspects will no doubt attribute darker motives to her stance.
The optimism that greeted the conclusion of the Istanbul talks is encouraging, but a realistic assessment must confront the politics behind the diplomacy. With all-too-likely GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney geared up for a foreign policy offensive, and the Israel firsters in both parties ever on the lookout for deviations from the bipartisan pro-Israel line, the political constraints on a settlement in an election year bode ill for the cause of peace. Not that Romney is proposing anything significantly different than the policy the Obamaites are now pursuing – draconian sanctions, relentless diplomatic and political pressure, and covert efforts at regime change. Yet the President and his advisors are walking a tightrope: the slightest wind in either direction could tip them over into the Scylla of appearing weak or the Charybdis of being provoked into war.
April 18, 2012
Justin Raimondo [send him mail] is editorial director of Antiwar.com and is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard and Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement.
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