Kerry reassures Israel as Congress grumbles about a deal

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From the State Department, Kerry’s arrival in Geneva after leaving Israel, where Prime Minister Netanyahu was incensed by reports of a deal with Iran.

Good afternoon, everybody. It’s great to be here. The P51 is doing some very important work right now, and I’m delighted to be here at the invitation of Cathy Ashton to try to work with our colleagues to see if we can narrow some differences. I want to emphasize there are still some very important issues on the table that are unresolved. It is important for those to be properly, thoroughly addressed.

I want to emphasize there is not an agreement at this point in time, but the P51 is working hard, and I look forward to the meetings that I’ll be having very shortly with Lady Cathy Ashton and with my fellow ministers in the P5, and then also I will be meeting with Minister Zarif. We hope to try to narrow those differences, but I don’t think anybody should mistake that there are some important gaps that have to be closed.

So thank you very much. Appreciate it. Thank you.

The Washington Post reports the Congress is already balking:

“While I support the president’s efforts to engage with Iran, I am deeply troubled by reports that such an agreement may not require Tehran to halt its enrichment efforts,” said Engel, a strong congressional backer of Israel. “If Iran intends to show good faith during these talks, it must at a minimum abide by United Nations Security Council resolutions calling for a halt to enrichment.”

The committee’s chairman, Rep. Edward R. Royce (R-Calif.), announced a hearing on the proposed deal next week.

“Instead of toughening sanctions to get meaningful and lasting concessions, the Obama administration looks to be settling for interim and reversible steps,” Royce warned.

The Post says that Kerry sought to “reassure” Netanyahu. Reassure is the word that Dennis Ross also used on NPR last night.

The tense meeting Friday morning between Kerry and Netanyahu was a last-minute effort to reassure the Israeli leader before Kerry flew to Switzerland. But the Israeli leader left little doubt that the fate of the Palestinian talks is linked to the outcome of negotiations with Iran.

NPR interviews Dennis Ross:

I think the key here is going to be reassure the Israelis that if there is this first deal, A, it is not changing our focus on what needs to happen to the Iranian nuclear program, which is it has to be rolled back and it has to be rolled back in a significant way so Iran doesn’t retain a breakout capability, number one.

And number two, I think the big fear that exists here in Israel, based on people I’ve been talking to, is a genuine concern that somehow even this limited relief will send a signal to others in the world that it’s back to business as usual, the Iranians, and the economic structure pressure will really be relaxed far more than we intend.

Notice that Ross says “here in Israel,” but Melissa Block in introducing him did not say where Ross was. Ross is on the board of the Jewish People Planning Institute, a pro-Israel organization. Maybe that’s why he was in Israel? Notice that the Washington Post identifies Eliot Engel as being strongly pro-Israel. Shouldn’t NPR identify Ross that way?

Now here is the Emergency Committee for Israel echoing Netanyahu, and putting the pressure on Congress to block a deal. Statement by Bill Kristol and a few others.

This looks to be a very bad deal. The Iranian regime would obtain major sanctions relief in exchange for token and superficial concessions that neither freeze nor set back its nuclear weapons program. …

We oppose such a deal, which would make war and nuclear proliferation in the Middle East more likely and would undermine U.S. security by making the world a more dangerous place. Friends and enemies alike would now be convinced that the administration’s past guarantees were empty promises, its past red lines written in disappearing ink. If the administration announces such a deal, Congress should take all appropriate measures to oppose it and ratchet up sanctions. And Congress should also make it clear that the United States will stand with our ally, Israel, if she judges it necessary to act to prevent the Iranian regime from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Notice that in the Times, Congress has become a signifier for the Israel lobby (notes Bill McGowan):

But Mark Dubowitz, the executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said an interim agreement would go over badly with the allies and in Congress.

“Even if we get this de minimis interim deal from Iran, we could be in serious trouble,” he said. “The Israelis and Saudis are already freaking out about the dangers of any interim deal. This would demonstrate to them and Congress that the Obama administration has entered the Persian nuclear bazaar and gotten totally outnegotiated.”

A little orientalism there, huh.

Note that J Street is aligning itself firmly with the Obama administration and efforts to make a deal in Iran. As the Forward reported, the lobby is splitting over this question. J Street wants to stop renewed sanctions efforts in the Senate. Here’s an action memo from staffer Dylan Williams, albeit in the context of Iran allegedly seeking a nuclear weapon:

we welcome reports of recent days’ progress in Geneva toward an agreement with Iran to begin freezing and rolling back its program. … reports that some in the Senate are considering moving a new round of sanctions legislation seem ill-timed and unhelpful.
Tell Senators Barbara Mikulski and Benjamin Cardin that you support diplomacy to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and urge the Senate to take a time-out from moving ahead with new sanctions.
Just last week, the White House asked groups that have been promoting sanctions on Iran to hold off on promoting another round. The goal of sanctions has always been to bring Iran to the table, and ultimately to achieve a diplomatic agreement that ensures it does not develop a nuclear weapon.
With that goal now in sight, it seems some are having a tough time taking yes for an answer.
Even though 62% of American Jews support the way President Obama is handling Iran’s nuclear program, some Jewish communal organizations have rejected his appeal to let the negotiations continue, and are pushing full steam ahead for new and harsher penalties against Iran.
We’re not about to let that happen. There will be plenty of time to impose further sanctions should it again be necessary.
Tell Sens. Mikulski and Cardin that now’s not the time for a new round of sanctions. Let’s give diplomacy time.

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Kerry is so impressive. To think he could have been Pres in 20o4. Although he did vote for the 2002 Iraq war resolution as Clinton and Biden did.

The nuclear talks with Iran seem in some difficulty. The French foreign minister is balking citing Israeli security concerns and he says there will be no deal, according to the Jerusalem Post. Ha’aretz says French are leading a drive for the P5 + 1 to take a harder line.

I think the reason everyone is so keen for a thaw with Iran is that they have a lot of oil still in the ground because of the sanctions and because they’ve become highly self sufficient, even building their own 747 parts to get around the lack of supply from… Read more »

This article from the NYT is as good as it gets when it comes to passive-agressive contempt for Netanyahu from the NYT: A bit dazzling coming from the staunch liberal Zionist paper. Netanyahu is outright described as unwilling to compromise on the Palestinian issue. Rudoren is dismissing him as… Read more »

These hardliners are rejecting a deal before the deal is concluded, which tells you all you need to know about their rejection of any deal, since negotiators seem to be going from Israel to Geneva then from Geneva to Israel I think they should cut out the middle man and… Read more »