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October 31, 2014 / 7 Heshvan, 5775
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Iran, Obama And Netanyahu

Most analysts seem to be in agreement that Iran has mounted its current charm offensive aimed at President Obama and the West generally because the broad effects of sanctions have been taking hold and causing economic misery across Iran, fanning growing unrest.

Where many disagree, however, is on whether Iran is serious about accepting restrictions on its nuclear aspirations or is just playing for more time in an effort to soften the sanctions by promising to negotiate in good faith.

We tend to agree with Prime Minister Netanyahu that it is all a bluff. But we also agree with President Obama – and perhaps Mr. Netanyahu does too, judging from his choice of words during his visit to the U.S. this week – that there is no choice under the circumstances but to give diplomacy one more chance, with conditions.

Yet underlying all of this is the fear that even if Iran is sincere, any rapprochement between the US and Iran – even a non-nuclear Iran – would change the geopolitical dynamics in the region.

Much is being made of Mr. Obama’s receptiveness to the overtures of Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani. And, to be sure, that receptiveness has raised concerns in Israel and countries such as Saudi Arabia that the U.S. is placing too much stock in the declared intentions of Iran’s leadership. But here is part of what Mr. Obama actually said in his speech at the UN last week:

“To succeed, conciliatory words will have to be matched by actions that are transparent and verifiable…. this isn’t simply an issue between America and Iran – the world has seen Iran evade its responsibilities in the past, and has an abiding interest in making sure that Iran meets its obligations in the future.”

Acknowledging the widespread skepticism over Iran’s intentions, the president said that “the roadblocks may prove to be too great, but I firmly believe the diplomatic path must be tested.”

For his part, Prime Minister Netanyahu in his UN speech this week shredded Rouhani, insisting he is no different from any of his predecessors since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution.

“They’ve all served that same unforgiving creed, that same unforgiving regime,” Mr. Netanyahu said. “I wish I could believe Rouhani but I don’t….”

Though he also raised the issue of preemptive military action by Israel if it determined Iran was moving closer toward a nuclear weapons capacity, he also seemed to acquiesce in Mr. Obama’s decision to take the diplomatic route, for now.

It didn’t get much notice but in his UN speech Mr. Obama, referring to the Iran situation and the Israeli/Palestinian dispute, said that “While these issues are not the cause of all the region’s problems, they have been a source of instability for far too long, and resolving them can help serve as a foundation for a broader peace.”

The problem, of course, is that U.S. interests in the Middle East might diverge from those of Israel if what was required in crafting an overall settlement would not meet Israel’s needs.

In that case, what sacrifices would Mr. Obama require of Israel?

And what would the president be prepared to concede to Iran in order to get it to drop its nuclear weapons quest and thus avoid a military confrontation? It’s no secret that Iran seeks regional hegemony and indeed is the principle supporter of Syria, Hamas and Hizbullah. While a nuclear-weapons capacity would catapult Iran to the forefront of regional leadership, even without that capacity it could become, with U.S. assistance, the preeminent regional power.

And, of course, lurking in the background and alluded to in Mr. Rouhani’s UN speech is the notion Israel, as part of any agreement, be required to give up its own arsenal of nuclear weapons.

In sum, for all the ballyhooed talk of moderation in Iran’s position and signs that Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Obama have moved somewhat closer to each other’s stated positions, no resolution appears anywhere in sight.

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