Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s demands on enrichment are “nonstarters,” experts say.
by Ariel Ben Solomon
Nov. 4, 2013
As is usual for Iranian diplomacy, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei came out with contradictory remarks on Sunday.
He called Israel “an illegitimate and bastard regime” and the US “an enemy who smiles,” yet he defended President Hassan Rouhani’s negotiations with the West from regime hard-liners opposing the talks, stating, “No one must weaken an official who is busy with work.”
Khamenei also added that Iran has nothing to lose from these negotiations.
The situation might seem hopeful, since Iran’s supreme leader has defended his negotiating team. Yet Iran has dragged out the negotiations for years, without anything to show for it.
Is this time going to be any different?
It seems that the deal to which Iran would be willing to agree would not be good enough for Israel.
Prof. David Menashri, an Iran expert and the president of the College of Law and Business in Ramat Gan, Israel, told The Jerusalem Post in an interview that “Iran is a country that responds to pressure, and currently it is under pressure.”
The supreme leader decided to support the nuclear negotiations in order to remove the sanctions, as “for Iran to agree to the suspension of its nuclear program is easier than changing its attitudes toward the US,” said Menashri, adding that one reason is that any freeze in their program might be reversible.
Asked if he thinks that Iran would possibly agree to Israel’s demand for a full stop of its program, he responded that Iran is not even “entertaining this idea.”
Monday is the anniversary of the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, where a group of Iranian students took over the US Embassy. Menashri pointed out that in preparation for the anniversary, “Death to America” chants were heard already on Sunday.
Menashri sees the lack of trust and the gap between the parties as perhaps too large to bridge in such a short time and advises against easing the sanctions, as long as no actual and significant steps have been taken by Iran.
After all, the sanctions are one of the main reasons the Iranians came to the talks in the first place, he said.
Trita Parsi, the president of the National Iranian American Council, told the Post that he sees the talks between the main two players – the US and Iran – as positive.
“There seems to be a symbiosis between Washington and Tehran right now. Both sides are successfully pushing back against their internal hawks,” he said, noting that “Obama is making progress against Congress, and Khamenei is pushing back against hawks in Tehran.”
Hence, he said, both sides are “delivering.”
Asked about Israel’s stance, Parsi responded that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s four conditions “are nonstarters and he knows it.”
Parsi is referring to Netanyahu’s demands that Iran stop all enrichment and agree to remove all of its enriched uranium as well as closing down the Fordow nuclear plant and the Arak heavy water reactor, which is using plutonium.
“But there has been a noticeable toning down from Israel and from its supporters in Washington,” asserted Parsi, who believes that the deal currently in the works between US President Barack Obama and Iran “is not based on zero enrichment” and it “will ultimately be good for Israel as well.”
He went on to add, “Remember, many in Israel were upset about the chemical deal with Syria, but it is now clear that the outcome was also good for Israel.”
Michael Rubin, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Pentagon official and the author of the forthcoming book Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes, disagrees completely with Parsi.
“The chances that Iran will come in from the cold are between zero and nil. Obama is going to get rolled like a nun at a Las Vegas poker table,” he told the Post.
“First of all, let’s not scapegoat Israel for a demand of zero enrichment. That is what four unanimous or near-unanimous Security Council resolutions demand of Iran,” argued Rubin. And these resolutions were the end result of years of Iranian violations of the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) agreements, he said.
“As for the future of talks, there’s a lot of wishful thinking going on as diplomats and politicians substitute advocacy for analysis,” said Rubin, pointing out that while Khamenei speaks about “heroic flexibility,” it is clear that the regime is signaling “a change in tactics, not policy.”
In addition, Rubin said, “Kayhan, an Iranian newspaper whose editor Khamenei appoints and which speaks on the supreme leader’s behalf, has made clear that confidence building and compromise are tantamount to treason.”
Iranian officials continue to look at and speak about the North Korean model for achieving nuclear weapons.
In other words, “get ready for two steps forward, three steps back,” said Rubin.
Reuters contributed to this report.