WASHINGTON — Susan Rice, the national security adviser of former U.S. President Barack Obama, defended the nuclear deal with Iran during an address to the annual conference of pro-peace Jewish group J Street. Rice also mocked U.S. President Donald Trump for saying early on in his presidency "how easy it will be to get Middle East peace."
The crowd burst out laughing when Rice was asked what role she thinks the Trump administration can play in solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "They inherited a problem that seems increasingly far from a solution," she said.
"The facts on the ground make the viability of the two-state solution more and more remote," she continued. "The politics on both sides are hostile to a two-state solution, particularly on the Israeli side at the moment. On the Palestinian side there is a leadership that is repeatedly unable to take yes for an answer. The Trump administration has made a difficult situation even worse."
"It's highly unlikely that the administration will put forward the kind of bridging proposal that can help get a solution," said Rice, adding that Trump's comment about "taking Jerusalem off the table" is making the process even more complicated.
'A disaster from virtually every dimension'
Rice also defended the nuclear deal reached between Iran and world powers. "The fact is that the nuclear deal is working. All of Iran's potential pathways to the bomb have been eliminated, verifiably so," she said.
"That is not disputed by the U.S. intelligence community, and even elements in the Israeli security establishment are aware of it. We've gone from a situation where Iran was two, three months away from having the material to develop a nuclear weapon, to today, where we have the ability for many, many years to verify what Iran is up to."
She warned about the potential fallout from the U.S. pulling out of the deal, saying it would isolate the administration and harm efforts to curb North Korea.
"We've now got at Trump's side Bolton and Pompeo, extremely harsh critics of the deal who have sworn to its destruction," she said. "Iran will be in a position to say quite truthfully that they upheld their obligations and the U.S. did not. That would leave them free, if they chose, to resume their nuclear program, and pursue it without constraints.
"We will have done this on the eve of the president's presumed discussion with North Korea, sending a message that the United States is inconsistent. I think it's a disaster from virtually every dimension. It will strengthen the hardliners in Iran who didn't like this in the first place."
'When the line is crossed, we speak out'
Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, appearing for the first time at the conference, attacked Trump for his reaction to the far-right violence in Charlottesville last year. He also criticized Israel for its treatment of African asylum seekers in the country, saying that the Jewish American community must be vocal on such occasions. "When the line is crossed, we speak out," he said.
"When the leaders of Israel and the United States do things that contradict the foundations of their two countries, we need to speak out. This is part of being true allies," said Cardin.
Cardin, who earlier this year proposed a bill against boycotts of Israel and the settlements that was criticized for hurting free speech, addressed the controversy surrounding it. J Street was one of the first organizations to come out against the legislation, which was also criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union. Cardin said he is "working to modify the bill" and promised he will not allow the legislation to curtail freedom of speech in the United States.
Cardin criticized Poland for its legislation restricting discourse about the Polish nation's role in the Holocaust. "We need to be concerned about this. We need to remember our history and not allow anyone to try to reinvent it," he said.
Cardin also said that Trump's words and policies "legitimize nationalism, which gives rise to anti-Semitism" and that he is worried about "growing anti-Semitism in the world."
"We need to pay attention," he added. "Never again."
Cardin, who voted against the Iran nuclear deal in 2015, said he believes the it is currently working and that it would be a major mistake for Trump to withdraw from it. "It's a dangerous policy that isolates the United States," he said.
'Trump surrounds himself by chaos'
In his address, Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, said that J Street helped pass the nuclear deal with Iran in 2015.
He applauded the organization for stating a position that "friends can have disagreements" and that one could support Israel but also disagree with some of its government's policies.
Durbin said that President Trump "surrounds himself by chaos." He warned that Trump is "obsessed" with undoing the nuclear deal for no clear policy purpose, but simply to outdo Obama's legacy. "Rather than try to kill this deal, we need to build on it," the Senator said.
He also said that Trump's rhetoric is harmful to achieving an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, and that steps such as cutting funding to UNRWA creates risks for a new crisis in the Middle East.
Durbin said that if the Trump administration is serious about getting a peace deal, it should speak out against settlement expansion, and at the same time, encourage the Palestinian Authority to promote reforms, hold elections and push back against Hamas.
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