The conflict between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama over the agreement with Iran will reach new heights this week, becoming a no-holds-barred contest for the hearts and minds of U.S. congressmen, American Jewry, and American public opinion as a whole. Netanyahu and Obama, both set to make speeches this week, seem as though they’re fighting a life-and-death battle and are ready to do whatever it takes to win.
For the first two weeks after the deal between Iran and the powers was signed, Netanyahu employed a cautious policy, refraining from being too aggressive in the United States, but he seems to have abandoned that strategy in recent days. One reason for this is that he’s becoming more and more convinced that he has a chance to persuade enough senators and congressmen to oppose the deal, and perhaps even overturn a presidential veto that Obama is expected to use after Congress votes on the deal on September 20.
With some liberal columnists coming out against the Iran deal, an oft-quoted CNN poll showing that most Americans oppose it, and the fact that Obama is responding personally to all statements critical of the agreement, Netanyahu believes the momentum is in his favor, and he should step on the gas. “There’s movement,” said Netanyahu on Thursday during a press briefing. “As people know more about the deal, they oppose it more. This is also true for the American public.”
Netanyahu’s view isn’t baseless. The White House sees the multi-million dollar campaign launched by pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, the marathon meetings between Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer with legislators on Capitol Hill and Netanyahu’s interviews in American media, and understands that achieving the necessary votes in Congress to approve the deal will be a hard-fought battle.
AIPAC, aside from spending between $20 million to $40 million on a campaign against the deal, will send a bi-partisan delegation of congressmen to Israel to meet Netanyahu and other senior Israeli officials, who will try to convince them to vote against the deal.
The pressure felt in the White House was reflected by Obama during a summit meeting he held with a few hundred liberal, Democrat-aligned American activists who support the Iran deal. Obama claimed that “billionaires” are funding a media and public relations campaign, spearheaded in part by the same people who supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Obama said that they oppose any kind of deal with Iran.
Obama hinted at a few different organizations or individuals, including AIPAC, Netanyahu, and his casino-magnate patron, Sheldon Adelson. The U.S. president explained to the activists that the vocal opposition to the Iraq invasion began when it was already too late, and thus failed. He called on the activists to ramp up pressure on “swing” senators and congressmen who have yet to decide how they’ll vote on the Iran agreement, to stave off pressure from those who oppose the deal.
Obama himself has also ramped up pressure, and is making direct efforts to convince congressmen to support the deal. Last week, he summoned dozens of democratic lawmakers to the White House and spent many hours answering their questions. According to the website Politico, Obama also spoke to other lawmakers on the phone, inviting others still to play a round of golf. In an effort to create political momentum in favor of the deal, he has asked all legislators he spoke with to publish statements in support of the deal as soon as possible.
On Wednesday, Obama will speak at the American University in Washington, where 50 years ago, John F. Kennedy spoke in an effort to convince the American people that it was possible to prevent nuclear war with Russia through diplomacy. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said during a press briefing on Friday that the speech is meant to explain to the American people how the Iran deal serves U.S. security interests.
Obama will make his speech one day after Netanyahu delivers a speech of his own, broadcast over the Internet to representatives from over 100 American Jewish organizations. Tens of thousands of American Jews received invitations to watch the live feed on their computers, cellphones and during screenings at synagogues across the United States. Netanyahu hopes that his speech will influence rabbis and Jewish communities to take a staunch public position against the deal with Iran.
The battle over the nuclear deal will be waged in several other arenas as well this week. In an unusual step, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Yukiya Amano, will attend a closed-door classified hearing at the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on Wednesday. Amano, who was invited to the hearing by senators as part of the review process the agreement is undergoing in Congress, will try to head off criticism and assuage concerns over the secret deal the IAEA signed with Iran; the agreement touches on the manner in which suspicions over the existence of an Iranian military nuclear program are dealt with, as well as future supervision of the Islamic Republic's nuclear facilities.
By mid-December, Amano will have to present the UN Security Council with a report that will determine whether Iran has fulfilled its commitment to expose the supposed military aspects of its nuclear program. The report is a condition for the lifting of sanctions and the implementation of the nuclear deal on the part of the world powers. Amano will try to convince the senators that the IAEA will not gloss over the issue and will demand Iran to provide complete details with regard to the suspicions over its military nuclear program.
Other arenas include Cairo and Doha. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Cairo on Saturday night for a strategic dialogue between the U.S. and Egypt, which is slated for Sunday. The meetings will focus on the nuclear agreement, and the ensuing upgrades to the Egyptian army. On Monday Kerry will travel to Doha, where he is to meet with foreign ministers from six Sunni gulf states: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain. The summit in Doha is also meant to deal with the nuclear deal, its implications and the continued strategic coordination between the U.S. and its gulf allies.
Kerry will not be travelling to Israel. "I told him he is invited to come here," Netanyahu said in a briefing for diplomatic reporters on Thursday. Kerry's spokesmen explained in recent days that the reason he won't come to Israel is purely technical, but one can easily assume why the secretary of state chose to skip a visit to the prime minister's bureau in Jerusalem. Despite the heavy heat of the Jerusalem summer, no one wants to get a bucket of cold water dumped on them in front of the cameras.
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