Have Netanyahu and Obama agreed on the outcome of negotiations with Iran?
Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak have sketched out in unprecedented detail the outlines of a diplomatic outcome with Iran which would be acceptable to Israel.
In two of his Pesach interviews, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outlined in unprecedented detail the diplomatic outcome with Iran that Israel could live with. Maariv's interviewers asked him specifically what would satisfy him in next week's P5+1 talks with the Iranians to which he answered –
"First of all, that there will be a real reversal of the Iranian nuclear program. That means ending the enrichment of uranium and removing the enriched material out of Iran. Iran can receive uranium for non-military purposes. I would mention also reversing that bunker at Qom, what do they need it for? If Iran does these things, it will really look as if it intends to stop its nuclear program."
Netanyahu's fawning interview with Israel Hayom was much more bullish, but there too he repeated the same principles for a deal: "to explicitly order a halt to all uranium enrichment, a removal of all enriched uranium from the country, replacing it with material that cannot be used to develop a nuclear weapon, and, of course, converting the underground facility in Qom."
And this morning in a CNN interview, Defense Minister Ehud Barak echoed Netanyahu's outline saying that "we told our American friends, as well as the Europeans, that we would have expected the threshold for successful negotiations to be clear, namely that the P5+1 will demand clearly that - no more enrichment to 20 percent."
These conditions being made by the two men who call the shots on Israel's Iranian strategy neatly dovetail with the report on President Barack Obama's proposal to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei detailed in David Ignatius' Washington Post op-ed piece on Friday. Ignatius wrote that the message Obama relayed through Turkish Prime Minister Reccep Tayip Erdogan was that the U.S. "would accept an Iranian civilian nuclear program if Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei can back up his recent public claim that his nation 'will never pursue nuclear weapons.'”
This could indicate that the Israeli and American leaders have agreed upon a joint formula for a diplomatic outcome, but what about the Iranians? Obama apparently "didn’t specify whether Iran would be allowed to enrich uranium domestically as part of the civilian program the United States would endorse," and this obviously is going to be the sticking point.
Whether or not Khamenei is to be believed when he says that his country does not seek nuclear weapons, publicly relinquishing Iran's right to enrich uranium would be a hugely embarrassing concession for the Iranian leadership - which they would certainly feel would weaken them both internally and around the region. This report today from FARS news agency indicates that the regime has overcome its previous misgivings and now agrees to hold the talks in six days in Istanbul.
Since the Iranians know now what the Americans expect, the chronic optimists who undyingly believe that diplomacy can always win out will be enocouraged, but Iranian spokesmen have repeatedly said they will never give up enrichment. Have the sanctions finally made them budge?
Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, Bernard Aronson, raised an intriguing proposal over the weekend in the New York Times, that Brazil, one the world largest miners of uranium and a champion of the sovereign right of nations to enrich this material, could help avert war in Iran by agreeing to an international framework in which nuclear wannabes would close their enrichment facilities and the IAEA would supply and regulate their enriched uranium. It is a fascinating idea, but it's hard to see how such a complex arrangement could be organized in time to solve this crisis.
I still believe that the outcome of the P5+1 talks in Istanbul, if they actually occur, could be significantly affected by events 8000 kilometers to the east, if Iranian ally North Korea launches it Unha-3 rocket. The Yonhap News Agency on Sunday quoted intelligence sourcesclaiming that the North Koreans are also preparing a nuclear test, totally blowing away any hopes for last month's much-feted agreement between Pyongyang and Washington, and throwing into question any treaty that can be reached with Tehran.