Vermont Public Radio comment for Thursday March 5th, 2015

 Following Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s scathing critique of America’s Iran policy, what happens next?

Well first, let’s put this into context. Never in the history of the Republic has a foreign leader ever been invited to address the U.S, Congress for the purpose of condemning the foreign policies of the sitting American president. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did so with relish.

 In describing the international effort to preclude Iran from developing nuclear weapons, Mr. Netanyahu said, “It doesn’t block Iran’s path to the bomb. It paves Iran’s path to the bomb.”

The Israeli leader was rewarded with 24 standing ovations by virtually all of the Republicans and some of the Democrats. Vermont’s two senators – Patrick Leahy and Bernie sanders –were among the 60 some Democrats who decided to boycott the speech. House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi, who was visibly upset throughout the speech said she was “saddened by the insult to the intelligence of the United States.”

Washington Post political columnist Dana Milbank wrote, “Her agitation was not difficult to comprehend. It’s a rare thing for the Congress to declare war. And rarer still to do it at the request of a foreign leader.”

Of course, the Israeli Prime Minister did not literally declare war on Iran. But for President Barack Obama, that would be the ultimate consequence of following Mr. Netanyahu’s advice. In defense of the agreement which is evidently close, the President said, “If we are successful in negotiations, this will be the best deal possible to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Nothing else comes close. Sanctions won’t do it. Even military action would not be as successful.”

Actually, the prime minister didn’t say anything he hadn’t said before. But he has appeared to fortify opposition to the agreement- both in Washington and Tehran.

Right after the speech, Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell said he planned an immediate debate on legislation which would make any agreement reached with Iran subject to Congressional approval. That could spell its doom. As things currently stand, President Obama has the authority to make such an agreement, although Congress would eventually have to lift the specific Iranian sanctions it had imposed.

In Tehran, there were reports that given the Netanyahu speech – and the enthusiastic congressional reaction - Iranian hardliners will now argue against any further concessions in the talks, on the grounds that President Obama will not be able to deliver on any deal.

The deadline for a framework agreement is March 24th with a detailed pact to be ready by the end of June. It is no exaggeration to suggest that if the nuclear deal falls apart at this late date - a major Middle East war to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear power, becomes the most likely alternative.

N. B. Since this commentary was broadcast March fifth, President Obama said on CBS’ Face the Nation that Iran was offered “an extraordinarily reasonable deal.”  And he hinted that an agreement is in sight.

Meantime Senate Democrats stopped Republican plans to push through legislation that would require Congressional approval of any Iran deal - at least until after there is an actual agreement. However on Monday, 47 Republican senators issued an open letter to Iran warning that if it is to last beyond the Obama presidency, any nuclear agreement will require Congressional approval. Inevitably, this will encourage Iranian hardliners.



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