Barack Obama is a sophisticated interviewee; the U.S. president knows how to hide his argument’s weak points behind cool curtains of clear, insightful and ostensibly well-balanced words. But my dear friend and distinguished colleague Tom Friedman is an excellent interviewer. Instead of being confrontational and petty, he knows how to wrench far-reaching statements out of his subject.
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That’s the origin of a historic scoop that surprisingly seems to have escaped the attention of the U.S. media. “Iran will not get a nuclear weapon on my watch,” the president told his country’s most important journalist; The New York Times also included a video of the interview. I repeat, Obama told Friedman: “Iran will not get a nuclear weapon on my watch.”
Since the Lausanne deal was announced a week ago, it has provoked innumerable worrisome questions. Why is there no similarity between the Farsi and English versions of the text? Why do the Iranians insist that the sanctions will be lifted immediately and that they will be able to continue enriching uranium in high quantities and developing advanced centrifuges without restrictions?
Why, even according to the American version, will the Iranians be able to keep an underground nuclear facility at Fordo and a nuclear reactor at Arak? Why, even according to the American version, is it not clear whether the fissionable material (approximately 10 tons) will be leaving Iran and whether international inspectors will have free access to every site in the country?
And what’s supposed to happen 10 years from now? Don’t we want to live after 2025? Doesn’t the Lausanne deal pave the way for a nightmarish not-so-distant future in which Iran is nuclear, the Middle East is nuclear and the world order collapses?
The 15 words that Obama said to Friedman turn the question marks into exclamation marks. And they were uttered in his own voice as the camera whirled: “I’ve been very clear that Iran will not get a nuclear weapon on my watch.” In other words, the man leading a hair-raising historic adventure says he’s committing that Iran will not become nuclear before January 20, 2017.
It’s not the 21st century that the president is trying to save. It’s not the next 21 years that the president is promising to stabilize. All Obama is promising is that in the next 21 months Iran will not produce or assemble its first nuclear bomb.
What are Israelis supposed to do with such a short-term commitment by the president? And what are the Saudis, Egyptians, Turks, Jordanians and Emiratis supposed to think? And responsible Europeans? And far-sighted Americans?
The Obama-Friedman interview doesn’t set off one alarm bell, it sets off a thousand. And when we add all the fateful questions about the Lausanne agreement, we get a strong feeling that something very dire is happening right before our eyes. We begin to suspect that the Obama-Khamenei agreement will not prevent Iran from going nuclear, but will only postpone the achievement by a few years.
The next 80 days are critical. History is watching us all closely. Where did we stand, what did we say and what did we do when the most important decision of our time was made? There will be no forgiveness for our mistakes. There will be no pardon for weakness, apathy or pettiness. The ordinary politics of left versus right is no longer relevant, nor is the love for Obama and hatred of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, or vice versa.
This is a time of trouble for Jacob — a time of trouble for every Israeli, Arab, European and American who favors stability and sanity. In the balance is the world in which our children will live or die.