Secretary of State John Kerry seemed overly anxious to sign an interim agreement with the Iranians in Geneva last week, and many in the Congress, in Israel and parts of the Arab world breathed a sign of relief when he left empty-handed. Israel and America’s Arab allies in the Persian Gulf were convinced that Kerry wasn’t paying enough attention to the details.
That, and Benjamin Netanyahu’s withering criticism, helped torpedo the first round of nuclear talks with the Iranians since the election of the Rouhani government this summer. And that’s a good thing.
France objected that its partners (Britain, Germany, Russia and China) didn’t focus enough on Iran’s construction of a heavy water reactor to produce plutonium. First word out of Geneva was that the French had scuttled the talks over that issue, leading one high level congressional source to tell me, “We’d like to pin a medal on the French around here. They look like the only ones skeptical about Iranian intentions.”
Kerry later said the big six were in sync and it was the Iranians who balked.
With failure of the first round — there’s another next week in Geneva — the administration lost a great deal of support – it never had much to begin with — for its bid to delay the latest sanctions bill that passed the House overwhelmingly and is awaiting Senate action.
President Obama and Secretary Kerry wanted the delay as an incentive for the Iranians, but the Congress, Israel and the Gulf Arabs saw it as a disincentive, arguing that the sanctions got the Iranians to the table and this is no time to retreat.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s strident attacks were seen as ending the period of shalom between him and Obama following the President’s successful visit to Israel earlier this year.
Iran and Israel’s other enemies must be taking great delight in Netanyahu’s bitter and angry attacks on the Obama administration and the growing rift between Washington and Jerusalem.
Obama has reiterated his commitment to preventing Iran from building a nuclear weapon, including using force if necessary, but there is growing doubt at home and abroad that he still means it. Concerns are fed by the President’s growing weakness and ineffectiveness at home – most notably the debacle of the Obamacare rollout – and abroad – spying on allies plus rifts with Egypt, Saudi Arabia as well as Israel.
All that adds up to good news for Iran and growing worry for the American Jewish community, Israel and America’s Arab allies.