Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Netanyahu Urges U.S. To Boost Iran Curbs

Wall Street Journal
October 1, 2013
Pg. 1


By Jay Solomon and Carol E. Lee
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pressed the U.S. for stronger sanctions on Iran even as it pursues nuclear talks, in an emerging conflict between the two allies amid a thaw between Washington and Tehran.
Mr. Netanyahu, who met with President Barack Obama at the White House on Monday, also said Iran needed to completely dismantle its "military nuclear program" before the West should roll back financial pressure or the threat of military force against Iran's nuclear installations.
The line set by Israel's leader differed from the White House's position that Tehran could maintain some of its nuclear-enrichment capabilities if it allowed the international community to verify that Iran's program was solely for peaceful purposes.
"Iran is committed to Israel's destruction, so for Israel, the ultimate test of a future agreement . . . is whether or not Iran dismantles its military nuclear program," Mr. Netanyahu said. "It is Israel's firm belief that if Iran continues to advance its nuclear program during negotiations, the sanctions should be strengthened."
The Israeli leader spoke during a break from 2 1/2 hours of meetings with Mr. Obama -- a significant chunk of the president's time as a partial shutdown of the U.S. government loomed. Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and other top officials also attended the meetings, and Mr. Netanyahu met separately for an hour with Mr. Biden.
The Obama administration has been working aggressively to win Israel's buy-in for diplomacy with Iran. The White House worries Mr. Netanyahu could make good on his threats to launch unilateral strikes on Iran's nuclear facilities, potentially sparking a wider Mideast war and upending delicate Arab-Israeli peace talks, according to U.S. and Israeli officials. The U.S. also works closely with Israel on intelligence gathering and counterterrorism operations.
The meeting between Messrs. Obama and Netanyahu was their first since the U.S. and Iran took tentative steps last week to thaw more than 30 years of animosity and agreed to engage more directly in negotiations over Tehran's nuclear program.
Mr. Netanyahu will address a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday. He warned in last year's address that Iran was rapidly approaching a red line that could trigger war.
On Friday, Mr. Obama spoke on the phone for 15 minutes with his Iranian counterpart, Hasan Rouhani, the first conversation between U.S. and Iranian presidents since Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution. International talks aimed at curtailing Tehran's nuclear program are set to resume in mid-October in Geneva.
The warming between Washington and Tehran has unnerved Mr. Netanyahu's government and some of the U.S.'s Arab allies who fear the diplomacy is moving too fast.
Israeli officials have cautioned the U.S. that Tehran would seek to use the cover of diplomacy to continue advancing its nuclear program. Israel estimates that Iran already has enough fissile material to make an atomic bomb, if Tehran decides to enrich its uranium stockpiles further.
Arab allies of the U.S. fear Mr. Rouhani could use better relations with Washington to bolster Tehran's finances and further threaten the interests of countries such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
Mr. Obama stressed to Mr. Netanyahu during their public remarks that the U.S. wasn't naively headed into the negotiations and that Washington remained committed to denying Iran nuclear weapons, by force if necessary.
"Because of the extraordinary sanctions that we have been able to put in place over the last several years, the Iranians are now prepared, it appears, to negotiate," Mr. Obama said. "As president of the United States, I've said before, and I will repeat that we take no options off the table, including military options."
Israel and the Arab allies, as well as members of Capitol Hill, remained skeptical about the Iranian diplomatic track.
Messrs. Obama and Netanyahu both said on Monday that the unprecedented international sanctions imposed on Tehran were the primary reason Mr. Rouhani won Iran's June elections and has pledged to return to the negotiating table.
But Israel and the U.S. appear at odds over whether to increase the sanctions while the negotiations take place.
U.S. officials have concluded that enforcing new sanctions on Tehran at this moment could weaken Mr. Rouhani domestically by feeding into Iranian hard-liners' views that Washington will never accept a deal with Iran's theocratic leaders.
These officials said new sanctions should be readied but only implemented if the negotiations falter.
Mr. Netanyahu, conversely, said on Monday that Iran would agree to giving up its nuclear program only if it is facing economic collapse.
"A credible military threat and strong sanctions, I think, is still the only formula that can get a peaceful resolution of this problem," he said.
A coalition of Republican and Democratic lawmakers are backing that view. Legislation is being prepared in the Senate that seeks to enforce a total ban of international purchases of Iranian oil over the next year.
A sanctions bill Mr. Obama signed in late 2011 has played a major role in cutting Iran's oil exports in half. The proposed legislation would demand international buyers cease all Iranian oil purchases or risk losing access to America's financial system.
"Our resolve to prevent Iran from achieving a nuclear weapons capability remains unchanged, and we will not hesitate from proceeding with further sanctions and other options to protect U.S. interests," said Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, after meeting Mr. Netanyahu.
Differences between the U.S. and Israel over what nuclear capabilities Iran could maintain as part of a negotiated settlement also are apparent.
Mr. Netanyahu's government maintains that Iran should be allowed to maintain none of the technologies needed to produce nuclear fuel on its soil. Israel sees that function inherently as a part of Tehran's military program because as long as Iran maintains the ability to enrich uranium domestically it maintains the ability to make bombs.
The Obama administration hasn't taken a firm position on whether Iran could be allowed to continue to make nuclear fuel. U.S. officials have only stated that Iran has the right to have a civilian nuclear program.
While Mr. Netanyahu is pushing Israel's position at the U.N., the White House is also promoting its Iran policy to Jewish Americans and Capitol Hill.
On Monday, Mr. Biden addressed J Street, a liberal pro-Israel organization that lobbies Congress on Mideast issues.
"We don't know if Iran is willing to do what is necessary to get there" and reach a deal, the vice president told a receptive audience. "But we. . .are committed to finding out."
The Obama administration has been closely monitoring Iran's economy as a gauge to understand why Mr. Rouhani has so aggressively embraced diplomacy since taking office in August.
The Iranian president said publicly during his appearances in New York that the state of Iran's economy was worse than what he imagined it to be during his country's presidential campaign. Mr. Rouhani's calls for a nuclear deal to be completed in between three to six months were a sign to some Iran watchers that Tehran might be running low on foreign-exchange reserves, because of the growing impact of sanctions.
The International Monetary Fund put Iran's foreign-exchange reserves at $90 billion at the end of 2012. Outside experts who have studied Tehran's finances believe these reserves could now be as low as $70 billion and that Iran may have access to as little as $15 billion, because of sanctions and the country's inability to repatriate some of its U.S. dollar holdings.
"Iran's fully accessible reserves may cover as little as three months of imports," said Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington think tank that advises Congress on Iran sanctions.

No comments:

Post a Comment