Oct 10th 2013

Unified Approach To Negotiating With Iran

by Alon Ben-Meir

A noted journalist and author, Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is professor of international relations and Middle East studies at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University. Ben-Meir holds a masters degree in philosophy and a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University. His exceptional knowledge and insight, the result of more than 20 years of direct involvement in foreign affairs, with a focus on the Middle East, has allowed Dr. Ben-Meir to offer a uniquely invaluable perspective on the nature of world terrorism, conflict resolution and international negotiations. Fluent in Arabic and Hebrew, Ben-Meir's frequent travels to the Middle East and meetings with highly placed officials and academics in many Middle Eastern countries including Egypt, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Turkey provide him with an exceptionally nuanced level of awareness and insight into the developments surrounding breaking news. Ben-Meir often articulates

On the surface, the United States and Israel appear to be on the same page regarding Iran’s nuclear program and how to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons without the use of force. Less discussed, however, are the significant differences between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu. The most recent conspicuous public discord between the two leaders was manifested during the United Nations General Assembly.

Whereas Obama embraced President Rouhani’s “charm offensive,” welcomed his goodwill gesture and even spoke with him on the phone, Netanyahu dismissed Rouhani’s overture with utter disdain, insisting that there is no change in Iran’s ambitions to acquire nuclear weapons—only its tactics.

Although the US and Israel share intelligence and carefully monitor Iran’s nuclear program, their strategic and tactical differences on how to tackle Iran’s nuclear program are bound to surface once Iran-US negotiations get underway. Here are some of those differences:

First, Obama’s credibility came into question in the wake of his vacillation on the Syrian crisis where tens of thousands are being butchered. Moreover, Obama’s credibility was further tarnished following his reversal on punishing Assad once he crossed the “red line” by using chemical weapons, which Obama asserted would be the tipping point.

Israel doubts Obama’s repeated assertion that all options are on the table, including the use of military force to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and that he will in fact execute what he proclaims.

President Obama’s lack of credibility is also widely seen by many Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia, who is terrified of the prospect of Iran becoming the region’s hegemon equipped with nuclear weapons and being in a position to bully its neighbors.

Second, while Israel agrees, albeit grudgingly, that diplomacy should be given a chance, Israelis worry that given Obama’s eagerness to find a peaceful solution, he may lift some of the sanctions prematurely before Iran demonstrates in deeds its intentions.

Although Obama and Netanyahu share the view that Rouhani’s moderate stance is precipitated by the crippling sanctions, Netanyahu is convinced that even if the Iranian regime agreed to stop uranium enrichment, it will resume it once the sanctions are lifted. This will also re-intensify Iran’s efforts to provide financial means to bolster its regional sway while aiding radical groups.

Third, whereas Netanyahu demands the dismantling of all of Iran’s nuclear facilities, Obama believes that this may well be a non-starter for Iran and has already indicated that Iran could maintain a limited nuclear program for peaceful purposes under strict international supervision.

Here too, Netanyahu is firm in his belief that Iran has demonstrated its uncanny ability to deceive the international community, and there is no reason to assume that it will now change course even under strict international monitoring.

Fourth, although Obama has time and again affirmed the US’ unshakable commitment to Israel’s national security, the view in Washington and other Western capitals is that fearing a massive retaliatory attack by the US, Iran will never use nuclear weapons against Israel, even if it had one.

Israel is fearful that if Iran manages to reach the point of no return in its nuclear weapons program, Obama may eventually settle on containing Iran’s nuclear capability through deterrence rather than use force to prevent it from acquiring nuclear bombs in the first place.

Netanyahu is absolutely convinced that the Iranian threat is existential and that the logic of deterrence does not apply to the Mullahs in Tehran.

Some question why Israel can have a nuclear program and Iran cannot. Simply put, Iran has repeatedly threatened Israel existentially, which Israel takes seriously. Thus, Israel feels it has the right to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons as long as Iran represents such an imminent danger.

Moreover Israel, like the US, is extremely concerned that the proliferation of WMDs could be catastrophic should such weapons fall into the wrong hands.

In an interview with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, Netanyahu stated that “you don’t want to be in a position where this messianic, apocalyptic, radical regime that has these wild ambitions but a nice spokesman gets away with building the weapons of mass death.”

For this reason, Netanyahu insists that “when it comes to Iran’s nuclear program, here’s my advice: Distrust, dismantle and verify”—a condition that he is unlikely to get, which raises other concerns for him.

Netanyahu knows that during the negotiations his hand may well be tied and he will not be in a position to take military action. His concerns will be compounded if the US reaches an agreement which is not air-tight and leaves Iran with an opening to resume its nuclear weapons program.

To avoid any misunderstanding and to increase the US’ leverage in the negotiations with Iran, the US must work closely with its allies, especially Israel, and project a unified approach by taking a number of steps.

The US should convince Iran that any agreement ought to fully satisfy its allies, including Israel. To that end, Tehran must understand that the US will regularly consult with its regional allies, and their endorsement of any agreement is a prerequisite.

President Obama should publicly disabuse Iran of the notion that the US can force Israel’s hand to accept any deal. Iran must be convinced that Netanyahu is not bluffing when he says, “if Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel will stand alone.”

In an interview with Charlie Rose, Netanyahu pointedly said, “I’ll give you a state secret. The US has a stronger military than Israel, but, but don’t short-change Israel either.”

Any differences between the US and Israel should be discussed privately. Iran must recognize that there is no daylight between the US’ and Israel’s positions and that it cannot drive a wedge between them.

Finally, the US should not try to inhibit or pressure Israel from publicly threatening Iran. Only when Iran takes the Israeli threats seriously will it make the concessions necessary to reach an agreement acceptable to the US and Israel as well.

To reach a lasting solution, a number of specific stipulations should be met:

Although negotiations will resume between Iran and the P5+1 in mid-October, being that Iran needs to satisfy the US’ demands and that the US is not willing to settle for the lowest denominator (which Russia and China may push for), only bilateral negotiations between the US and Iran could potentially produce an enduring accord.

Given Iran’s long record of deception and propensity to play for time, the timeframe for the duration of the negotiations should be limited to three to four months to prevent Iran from exploiting lengthy negotiations to further advance its nuclear weapons program.

Tehran has made great strides in advancing its nuclear program in the past in spite of repeated Israeli-American cyber attacks and the assassination of several of its top nuclear scientists. If Iran is sincere about reaching an agreement, it can be accomplished within the allotted period.

The US must not remove any of the sanctions unless Iran shows that it is negotiating in good faith and first implements prior demands by the IAEA at the onset of the negotiations.

This includes allowing immediate and unfettered access to all its nuclear facilities and providing full disclosure about any undeclared nuclear material and its location. Finally, Iranmust cease uranium enrichment during the negotiations.

Given that Iran will not agree to dismantle its nuclear facilities, the US and Israel should agree on the scope of such a program and a monitoring regime that may include a permanent presence of international monitors.

To be sure, there may be an opportunity to end the impasse over Iran’s nuclear program peacefully: Since Iran has always insisted that its nuclear program is peaceful, Tehran has, in fact, a built-in face-saving way out by agreeing to maintain a strictly supervised and limited nuclear program on its soil.

Ayatollah Khamenei could emerge as the “winner” from these negotiations by successfully removing the sanctions, preserving national pride while satisfying the US and its allies, including Israel.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Jun 25th 2020
EXTRACT: "The facts are clear: the wealthiest 0.54%, about 40 million people, are responsible for 14% of lifestyle-related greenhouse gas emissions, while the bottom 50% of income earners, almost 4 billion people, only emit around 10%. The world’s top 10% income earners are responsible for at least 25% and up to 43% of our environmental impact. Most people living in developed countries would fit into this category, meaning you don’t have to consider yourself rich in order to be globally affluent. Even many poorer people in wealthy countries have a disproportionately large and unsustainable resource footprint compared to the global average."
Jun 24th 2020
EXTRACT: "To be sure, the American Dream was always more aspiration than reality. Economic, social, and intergenerational mobility have always fallen short of what the myth of the self-made man or woman would lead one to expect. But with social mobility now declining as inequality rises, today’s young people are right to be angry."
Jun 19th 2020
EXTRACT: "There is only one way to repair America’s reputation, regain the trust of allies, and ensure that the US can act as an effective counterweight to China: address the root causes of the cracks that Trump’s disastrous presidency has exposed and widened. This is in line with the vision advanced in 2011 by two military strategists, Captain Wayne Porter and Colonel Mark Mykleby, using the pseudonym “Mr. Y.” Porter and Mykleby argued that national security depends not only on the capacity to respond to threats from foreign powers, but also – and perhaps more important – on the “application of credible influence and strength.” That influence, in turn, depends on America’s success in providing a “pathway of promise” for US citizens – and a model for the world."
Jun 14th 2020
EXTRACT: "The most critical question then is not how far Trump will go to promote his treasonous agenda, but for how long Republican leaders will silently accept and subserviently enable Trump to destroy the basic moral tenets and values on which this Union was founded, and which they swore to uphold and protect...............Of course, shame on us if we continue to be surprised by Republicans’ continuing silence, because as we all know, even when presented with overwhelming evidence that Trump committed crimes against the American people, Trump’s Republican stooges in the Senate exonerated him following impeachment almost unanimously...................The Republican leadership, to be sure, has made its bed. It has committed moral suicide. History will judge them harshly for their treason and betrayal of the nation, including all of those who have lived and died throughout our history to foster and protect our safety, integrity, and freedom."
Jun 9th 2020
EXTRACT: " Governments can do nothing about the quotidian offenses of living as a black person in America – the empty taxis that refuse to stop, being mistaken for employees in supermarkets, the myriad intentional and unintentional insults. Many now in the streets won’t be satisfied unless the result of this national spasm is improved schools, health care, and job opportunities for minorities – a fair shake for black people. What will happen when America once again falls short of honoring its professed values?."
Jun 8th 2020
EXTRACT: "It should be apparent to most observers of international relations that the Chinese government wants the world to play by its own set of rules. Beijing appears to believe that China’s rise and its assumption of global leadership positions are an inevitable extension of earlier periods in its history, when it was the world’s most powerful country. This is often at odds with the global norms that have been established – with China’s participation, it is worth adding – since the 1940s. While this is clearly the Chinese century, few outside of China would agree that Beijing’s global leadership is either inevitable or necessarily desired – certainly not on the Chinese government’s terms."
Jun 4th 2020
EXTRACT: "Many Americans are clearly horrified by their president’s crass and incendiary words. But will their disapproval be offset by anxiety about violent social unrest? Will age-old racial prejudices, often unspoken, or even acknowledged, still make them vote for the false security of a coarse white bully?  Much will depend on how hot this summer gets. If people think rationally in November, it is hard to imagine that enough of them would vote to keep this appalling administration in power for another four years. But fear is reason’s worst enemy."
Jun 2nd 2020
EXTRACT: "For starters, many Americans have accepted that they live in a winner-takes-all society of deepening inequality. While the wealth and incomes of those at the very top continue to grow, tens of millions of Americans struggle to afford health care, childcare, and other basic goods. This story has been told many times over. But what often goes unremarked is that the responsibility for managing the social costs of this system has been offloaded onto the police."
May 27th 2020
EXTRACT: "Obamagate is the latest conspiracy theory to be pushed by US president, Donald Trump. It started on the morning of May 10, when Trump retweeted the word “OBAMAGATE!” By the next day, the Obamagate hashtag had accrued over two million tweets and another four million by the end of the week. Trump has repeatedly reused the slogan on his Twitter feed since and it has been promoted by right-wing influencers including Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and many others....You are not alone if you’re confused by what Obamagate actually is or why Trump is tweeting about it."
May 23rd 2020
EXTRACT: "Not all aspects of our near and medium-term future can be foreseen at this juncture of the Covid-19 pandemic, but we now know enough to make some hypotheses about what is likely to change, based on what has already changed. The future is sure to look very different than it did before this decade began, regardless of whether a vaccine is found. If a vaccine is found, it is unlikely to be tested, approved, manufactured, and efficiently distributed to the world’s population of nearly 8 billion people for years. Bearing in mind that there is no vaccine for any coronavirus, what is likelier is that the world will be living with Covid-19 as a part of our ecosystem for many years to come – possibly permanently. That means that our new normal is probably already here."
May 21st 2020
EXTRACT: "LONDON – The new Franco-German proposal for a €500 billion ($547 billion) European recovery fund could turn out to be the most important historic consequence of the coronavirus. It is even conceivable that the deal struck between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron might one day be remembered as the European Union’s “Hamiltonian moment,” comparable to the 1790 agreement between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson on public borrowing, which helped to turn the United States, a confederation with little central government, into a genuine political federation."
May 19th 2020
EXTRACT: "In April 2011, Donald Trump, then considering a run for the presidency the following year, said that he had sent investigators to Hawaii to check out rumors that President Barack Obama wasn’t born there, but in Kenya, which would disqualify him for the presidency. His investigators, Trump declared, “cannot believe what they’re finding.” I can find no record of Trump being challenged on this outlandish claim at the time. In the fall of 2016, Trump, now the Republican presidential nominee, was convinced by his staff that he had to abandon this “birther” nonsense. He did so reluctantly, charging – also with no evidence – that such rumors had actually been initiated by his opponent, Hillary Clinton. There, in a nutshell, is Trump’s modus operandi: he’s not just a liar but a fabulist, seemingly unconcerned with whether his fictions will be exposed. If they are, the world simply moves on as he invents fresh distractions."
May 19th 2020
EXTRACT: "Li, a doctor, was purportedly silenced and chastised by Chinese officials for warning on December 30, 2019, about a new virus in the Wuhan hospital where he worked. When it became evident that he was on to something serious – so serious, in fact, that it ultimately killed him – the Chinese government changed its tune and celebrated Li’s bravery. If only that had happened sooner, the argument goes, the world would have avoided this horrific pandemic.................... But that’s not what happened."
May 9th 2020
EXTRACT: "Jana Winter and Hunter Walker at Yahoo News broke the story that 11 Secret Service agents have tested positive for the coronavirus. Likely some of them served in the West Wing. This week it was revealed at that a US military valet who brought Trump food came down with the virus, sending Trump into a “lava level” rage. Two aides to Vice President Mike Pence have tested positive. Some observers are afraid that the virus is circulating in the West Wing itself."
May 6th 2020
EXTRACT: "There has been much debate around the world about the source of the COVID-19 pandemic, ranging from a laboratory to Wuhan’s seafood market to some other form of animal-to-human transmission. While there is no proof (yet) that the virus may have been inadvertently released from one of the two biological research laboratories located at Wuhan, there is evidence that viral release has occurred in the past, and a host of additional data that point to a laboratory connection. "
May 4th 2020
EXTRACT: "A better bet is that nothing will be the same. Wealth will be destroyed on a catastrophic scale, and policymakers will need to find a way to ensure that, at least in some cases, creditors take part of the hit, a process that will play out over years of negotiation and litigation. For bankruptcy lawyers and lobbyists, it will be a bonanza, part of which will come from pressing taxpayers to honor bailout guarantees. Such a scenario would be an unholy mess."
Apr 29th 2020
EXTRACT: "We need the twenty-first century’s two superpowers, America and China, to set the example, by burying their rivalry and uniting all of humankind around a collective response to the current crisis, and to those that await us. As COVID-19 has taught us, the old international system can no longer guarantee humankind’s safety and security. We cannot afford to be taught that lesson twice."
Apr 29th 2020
EXTRACT: "It should come as no surprise that Trump has abused his power in orchestrating the federal response to the pandemic. For example, he made sure that Colorado received 100 much-needed ventilators, and made sure that Colorado voters knew it, in order to help re-elect troubled incumbent Republican senator Cory Gardner.  More alarming, Trump effectively threatened to wage germ warfare against US Postal Service workers by denying them congressionally approved virus-mitigation aid unless the USPS quadrupled rates on packages. Trump’s actual target was Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon and owner of The Washington Post."
Apr 28th 2020
EXTRACT: "These ten risks, already looming large before COVID-19 struck, now threaten to fuel a perfect storm that sweeps the entire global economy into a decade of despair. By the 2030s, technology and more competent political leadership may be able to reduce, resolve, or minimize many of these problems, giving rise to a more inclusive, cooperative, and stable international order. But any happy ending assumes that we find a way to survive the coming Greater Depression."
Apr 26th 2020
EXTRACT: "In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the US Federal Reserve will buy unlimited quantities of Treasury bonds, the Bank of England will purchase £200 billion ($250 billion) of gilts, and the European Central Bank up to €750 billion ($815 billion) of eurozone bonds. Almost certainly, central banks will end up providing monetary finance to fund fiscal deficits. The only question is whether they should make that explicit."