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Israel be damned: Trump all but set to meet with Rouhani

The US president's reckless overtures to dictators have drawn nary a peep, at least publically, from a clearly anxious Netanyahu
President Donald Trump speaks with reporters on the South Lawn of the White House, Friday, Aug. 23, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
President Donald Trump speaks with reporters on the South Lawn of the White House, Friday, Aug. 23, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Was it really such a big shock that US President Donald Trump was on the verge of meeting personally with Taliban leaders this weekend? The talks — set to take place in secret, at Camp David, no less, without a previously negotiated deal, absent a ceasefire and just two days before the anniversary of 9/11 — would have been a mockery to those more than 2,000 US soldiers who have died in the War in Afghanistan, as well as the 20,000 American service members wounded in action there

Don’t get me wrong. I support staff-level negotiations to extract our troops from the Afghan mud. What is outrageous is the specter of the US president dallying with our enemies, over the objections of his advisors, and without the remote likelihood of making headway, much less achieving peace. It’s political theater, it’s obscene, and lately, it’s a pattern.

In July Trump told CNN that he gets along better with dictators than with US journalists. I believe it. This is obvious through the president’s friendship with a number of decidedly anti-democratic foreign leaders. Trump has close relations with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who promised to spend $400 million on “things” in America, as Trump called them. He has described Turkish President Recep Erdogan as a close friend and said that the strongman is doing a “very good job.” Trump has also received what he has repeatedly called “love letters” from North Korean despot Kim Jong Un and has already met with the dictator on more than one occasion. The Leader of the Free World also considers the Chinese President, Xi Jinping a friend, and has publically referred to him as king.

Of course these relationships only pale in comparison to President Trump’s infatuation with Russian President Vladimir Putin. They get along well on a personal level, a political level, maybe a financial level, and even, reportedly, when it comes to elections.

Now it seems Trump is gearing up to add yet another authoritarian poster child to his friends list, as he appears to be preparing to meet with Israel’s nemesis Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. This comes just after further news surfaced over the weekend regarding Iran’s nuclear capabilities. As European countries failed to reach an agreement to subdue the effects of US sanctions, Iran began taking steps to obtain a nuclear weapon in further violation of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, or JCPOA. You know, the one Trump himself famously tore up last year. Officials confirmed that Iran has begun installing advanced centrifuges to enrich “much more beyond” current levels. Utilization of these centrifuges will put Iran closer than ever to possessing weapons-grade level uranium. Great.

A meeting between Trump and Rouhani doesn’t just raise concerns for the American people and the US’s European allies, but for one of President Trump’s true close friends, Prime Minister Netanyahu. As the Israeli leader was in the midst of preparing for his own upcoming elections next week, he dropped everything and flew to London this past week. While the public was led to believe that his trip was mainly to meet with the new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, I believe its primary purpose was really to talk with United States Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

Bibi tried and failed to negotiate a new defense pact with the US, further panicking Israel. It is pretty clear that the Israeli government, especially the security establishment, believes Trump’s meeting with Rouhani is a done deal and they are, understandably, extremely concerned over this prospect. Well, except for the fact that nothing is ever a done deal with Trump. Witness again Camp David just this weekend.

Maybe Trump thinks a quickie new deal with Iran will actually help Bibi win reelection in Israel next week. Who knows? No one in the Trump White House, that’s for sure.

Sure, when questioned about this situation Bibi has started saying that he trusts the American president. This president. But such a response is the mirror opposite of what the Israeli prime minister said about President Obama and the JCPOA, when he stood in front of the UN General Assembly holding up a cartoon bomb and warned that Iran was but six months from developing a deliverable nuclear weapon, or when he went all the way to the US Congress to proclaim his distrust of an American president. And that rebuke came on the eve of a long-negotiated nuclear deal with the backing of the United Nations and the P5+1, complete with rigid verification mechanisms and consequences, hardly perfect but not an “agreement” whose negotiations began on Twitter a week or two ago.

Trump has already said on multiple occasions he would like to meet Rouhani and as recently as Wednesday suggested they could get together on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly next week in New York. He said it again to reporters Monday in the Oval Office. Will he in fact meet Rouhani in NY next week? If not, it may only be a matter of time.

About the Author
Steve Rabinowitz is president and a founder of Bluelight Strategies, a Washington, DC public affairs firm, and a former Bill Clinton White House aide.
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