Making it happen despite the naysayers
President Obama's interview
with Thomas Friedman published Sunday in The New York Times
is a big first step in what's being labeled a marketing campaign
for an agreement on curtailing Iran's nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic. That agreement is slated for completion by June 30.
Hammering out the details of that agreement and persuading skeptics not to join its adamant foes will likely be as difficult as the 18 months of negotiations that have gotten things as far as they are.
There's already been two bits of good news for the president's effort. First, there's the widespread view, held even by some long-time critics of the negotiations with Iran, that the framework or "understanding" laid out last week in the White House's summary of what's been agreed to is quite a bit better than expected. Second, there may be no vote on the agreement by Congress until it actually is completed.
That doesn't mean smooth sailing ahead. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina suggested the framework is no good because Obama is a wimp, not “feared or respected” enough to get all the concessions he should have:
“He’ll never be able to get the best deal,” Graham told CBS. “The best deal, I think, would come with a new president. Hillary Clinton would do better. I think everybody on our side except maybe Rand Paul could do better.”
In the Friedman interview, Obama made obvious what one of his focuses will be in his efforts to persuade Americans, especially those elected to Congress, that the Iran deal is worthy of their support: Benjamin Netanyahu. No surprise to anyone, the Israeli prime minister made clear immediately upon hearing the framework had been agreed to that he believes it is a bad deal that will make Israel more vulnerable to attack from its long-time enemy. A good deal, he said, would eliminate Iran's nuclear infrastructure and also include an end to support for terrorism and threats against Israel. Said Obama to Friedman:
“Well, what I’d say to them is this,” the president answered. “You have every right to be concerned about Iran. This is a regime that at the highest levels has expressed the desire to destroy Israel, that has denied the Holocaust, that has expressed venomous anti-Semitic ideas and is a big country with a big population and has a sophisticated military. So Israel is right to be concerned about Iran, and they should be absolutely concerned that Iran doesn’t get a nuclear weapon.” But, he insisted, this framework initiative, if it can be implemented, can satisfy that Israeli strategic concern with more effectiveness and at less cost to Israel than any other approach. “We know that a military strike or a series of military strikes can set back Iran’s nuclear program for a period of time — but almost certainly will prompt Iran to rush towards a bomb, will provide an excuse for hard-liners inside of Iran to say, ‘This is what happens when you don’t have a nuclear weapon: America attacks.’
“We know that if we do nothing, other than just maintain sanctions, that they will continue with the building of their nuclear infrastructure and we’ll have less insight into what exactly is happening,” Obama added. “So this may not be optimal. In a perfect world, Iran would say, ‘We won’t have any nuclear infrastructure at all,’ but what we know is that this has become a matter of pride and nationalism for Iran."
In a "perfect world," nobody, including Israel—the only nation in the Middle East to have nuclear weapons—would have a nuclear infrastructure. But despite President Reagan's and President Obama's public statements urging a move toward zero nuclear weapons, Israel's nukes—like those of the United States and the other four permanent Security Council members who participated in jointly negotiating the framework—will likely never be mentioned in the selling of the Iran deal.
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