The dealings behind the agreement struck between Iran and world powers last summer were not exactly as presented to the public, Ben Rhodes, one of President Barack Obama's top advisers, told The New York Times.
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While the American public was led to believe that negotiations between the West and the Islamic Republic took off after the election of President Hassan Rohani, considered to be a moderate political force, negotiations with hard-liners began much earlier. The reason for the skewed presentation of the talks' timeline, according to the Times' report, was to enable the administration to sell the deal to a wider audience.
After the deal was struck last July, Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, explained to the Times how Washington's foreign policy objectives focused on Iran. “It’s the center of the arc,” he said.
“We don’t have to kind of be in cycles of conflict if we can find other ways to resolve these issues,” he said. “We can do things that challenge the conventional thinking that, you know, ‘AIPAC doesn’t like this,’ or ‘the Israeli government doesn’t like this,’ or ‘the gulf countries don’t like it.’ It’s the possibility of improved relations with adversaries. It’s nonproliferation. So all these threads that the president’s been spinning – and I mean that not in the press sense – for almost a decade, they kind of all converged around Iran.”
Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, also interviewed in the Times profile, noted that his job at the time of negotiations was to keep Israel from striking Iran's nuclear facilities.
Speaking of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Panetta noted that “They were both interested in the answer to the question, ‘Is the president serious?’”
“And you know my view, talking with the president, was: If brought to the point where we had evidence that they’re developing an atomic weapon, I think the president is serious that he is not going to allow that to happen.”
Asked whether he would make that assessment now, Panetta answers, “Probably not.”
According to the Times, the Obama administration was hoping to evade a discussion over its foreign policy decisions by presenting itself as reaching out to moderate Iranian leaders who wished to reconcile with the West.
The Times also noted that by eliminating the issue of Tehran's nuclear threat, Washington hoped to defuse the tension between the two, thus allowing the U.S. to "disentangle itself from its established system of alliances with countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel and Turkey."
"With one bold move, the administration would effectively begin the process of a large-scale disengagement from the Middle East," the paper noted.
As for support for the deal, Rhodes admitted that “We created an echo chamber.”
"They were saying things that validated what we had given them to say,” he said.
“We had test drives to know who was going to be able to carry our message effectively, and how to use outside groups like Ploughshares, the Iran Project and whomever else. So we knew the tactics that worked,” Rhodes added.