Vermont Public Radio comment for Thursday October 3rd 2013
VPR226INTRO: When negotiators from Iran and six world powers meet later this month to discuss Iran’s nuclear intentions, one other country will have a major voice in those negotiations - and that’s Israel. This morning commentator and veteran ABC News diplomatic correspondent Barrie Dunsmore explains.
The new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who set a new moderate tone for his country’s image when he visited the United Nations last week, might have created an awkward problem for Israel. When the former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was denying the Holocaust and threatening to wipe Israel off the map, he was an easy target. But this week, in his meeting with President Barack Obama, and in his speech to United Nations General Assembly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had the more challenging task of attacking Rouhani’s apparent moderation. But he was undaunted.
Before his arrival, Mr. Netanyahu promised “to tell the truth in the face of the sweet- talk and the onslaught of smiles.”
After the White House meeting the Israeli Prime Minister said, “Iran is committed to Israel’s destruction, so for Israel the ultimate test of a future agreement with Iran is whether or not Iran dismantles its military nuclear program.”
In his General Assembly speech he was more sarcastic and tougher. Under the headline, “Israeli Leader Excoriates New Iranian President,” the New York Times story began. “Netanyahu sought to shred the credibility of Iran’s new president…as a beguiling figure who used soothing words and charm to mask intentions to build nuclear weapons.”
While Israeli leaders denigrate the Iranian "charm offensive", many people around the world, not least average Iranians, see Iran’s new moderate tone as a sign of hope that the issue of Iran’s nuclear ambitions can be resolved through diplomacy rather than still another disastrous Middle East War.
Still, the substantive talks have not yet begun and we know they are going to be difficult. The American price for lifting the punishing economic sanctions that are significantly hurting the Iranian middle class, is going to be onerous. Iran’s nuclear capabilities will have to become transparent, limited to peaceful purposes and subject to strict international inspections. It is not at all clear whether hardline commanders of the powerful Revolutionary Guard Corps, who believe Iran should be a nuclear power, will acquiesce to such demands.
In a sense, the Rev Guards are to President Rouhani, what the Israelis are to President Obama. Both of their hawkish positions will be significant factors in the new negotiations which begin in Geneva October 15th.
There may come a time when the Iranians have made significant concessions which satisfy the Europeans, Russia and China - but not Israel. What would happen then? Frankly it seems unlikely that America would accept any agreement opposed by Israel. That’s because, as Mr. Netanyahu warned in his U.N. speech, “If Israel is forced to stand alone, it will stand alone.” In other words Israel reserves the right to attack Iran to prevent it from becoming a nuclear power. And whatever the truth, the United States would be considered complicit in any such attack - certainly in the Middle East. So while Israel may not actually be sitting at the negotiating table, it effectively has given itself veto power over any agreement.
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