x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Obama reaffirms 'peaceful' approach to Iran

After comments by the US vice president Biden were interpreted as offering a 'green light' for Israel to attack Iran, the US president said that this was 'absolutely not' US policy. His administration remains committed to diplomacy. Even so, in the wake of Iran's disputed elections and the civil unrest which followed, Mr Obama's commitment to a policy of engagement is seriously challenged.

The United States is "absolutely not" giving Israel the go ahead to launch an attack on Iran, the US President Barack Obama told CNN on Tuesday. "We have said directly to the Israelis that it is important to try and resolve this in an international setting in a way that does not create major conflict in the Middle East," Mr Obama said, referring to international concerns about Iran's nuclear ambitions. On Sunday, the US Vice President Joe Biden appeared to suggest that the United States would not stand in Israel's way if the Jewish state concluded that Iran posed an existential threat. "Israel can determine for itself - it's a sovereign nation - what's in their interest and what they decide to do relative to Iran and anyone else," Mr Biden said on ABC's This Week. Mr Obama said on Tuesday that his vice president had simply been stating a fact, not sending a signal. Meanwhile, The Washington Times reported: "Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his top deputies have not formally asked for US aid or permission for possible military strikes on Iran's nuclear programme, fearing the White House would not approve, two Israeli officials said. "One senior Israeli official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, told The Washington Times that Mr Netanyahu determined that 'it made no sense' to press the matter after the negative response President Bush gave Mr Netanyahu's predecessor, Ehud Olmert, when he asked early last year for US aid for possible military strikes on Iran." Laura Rozen at Foreign Policy spoke to analysts who pointed out that Israel may in fact be wary of receiving a go ahead from the US to launch such an attack. "Israel's 'biggest nightmare' is that one day the US government 'would call it and say "OK guys, take care of it",' said Tel Aviv University Iran expert David Menashri in a call Monday arranged by the Israeli Policy Forum, a US nonprofit organisation that supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." During a visit to Russia, Israel's foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman said "We do not intend to bomb Iran, and nobody will solve their problems with our hands," Haaretz reported. When asked to comment on Mr Biden's remarks, Mr Lieberman said: "I think he said things that are very logical. Israel is a sovereign state and at the end of the day, the government of Israel has sole responsibility for its security and future, not anybody else." "Sometimes there are disputes between friends, but at the end of the day the decision is ours," he said. The Jerusalem Post reported on an Iranian response to Mr Biden's remarks. "Alaeddin Broujerdi, the head of Iran's parliamentary committee on national security and foreign policy, said the Islamic republic is ready to take 'real and decisive' action if Israel attacks its nuclear facilities. " 'Both the US and Israel are aware of the consequence of an erroneous decision,' he told reporters at the Iranian Embassy in Tokyo. " 'I believe our response will be real and decisive,' Broujerdi said. He declined to elaborate. "While Biden's comments were likely not coordinated with Israel, they do serve the government's interest. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been working hard since he took office on March 31 to shift the Obama administration's attention away from the Palestinian issue and the settlements to Iran, the real threat in the Middle East. This may be the beginning of that shift." For The National, Omar Karmi reported: "In Israel, there is a sense of vindication on behalf of officials in Benjamin Netanyahu's government. Mr Netanyahu ran for elections this year on a ticket that posited Iran as an existential threat to Israel and the greatest source of instability in the region, relegating the Palestinian-Israeli conflict down the list of priorities. "Mr Obama's insistence, however, on expending a significant amount of energy on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict put Mr Netanyahu on the defensive and saw the Israeli government defer its position on Iran to Washington, while eventually forcing Mr Netanyahu to bow to pressure to make a commitment, however conditional and lukewarm, to a two-state solution. " 'One explanation [for Mr Biden's remarks] is that a deal was done between the US and Israel,' said Yossi Alpher, an Israeli analyst and a former Iran specialist with Mossad, Israel's foreign intelligence service. 'On the same day that Biden made his remarks, Netanyahu opened his cabinet meeting by saying that in the first 100 days of his government, an Israeli consensus had been reached on the two-state solution.' "Mr Alpher said Mr Netanyahu felt that Israel needed to make concessions on the Palestinian issue to secure US support for his government's position on Iran 'if and when' Israel needs to strike Iran. " 'It certainly looked like a deal had been done,' he said." In a commentary for The Financial Times, Gideon Rachman considered the combined foreign policy challenges posed to the US by Russia and Iran and wrote: "Just a few months into his presidency, Mr Obama's policy of engagement with Iran has also been all but wrecked by the violent crackdown in that country. His advisers once day-dreamed about a dramatic presidential trip to Tehran, a speech before cheering students, a disarming smile for Mr Ahmadinejad. All of that is unthinkable now. Instead, Mr Obama is left having to cope with a wounded and aggressive Iranian government, intent on pressing ahead with its nuclear programme. The US president will now have to fend off the 'bomb Iran' lobby - but without being able to point to a plausible diplomatic alternative. [...] "[Faced with critics who see him as weak, naive and pushed around by foreigners,] the president will be under pressure to prove that he can be tough. But that can be a dangerous trap for a young, liberal president: similar pressures led John F Kennedy to take the first steps into Vietnam and President Carter to launch the disastrous effort to rescue the American hostages in Iran. "The Bush administration tested to destruction the idea that American foreign policy should be based on confronting 'evil'. So this is indeed a moment for Mr Obama to be tough on foreign policy. He needs to be tough enough not to be panicked into macho gestures by the setbacks he has suffered in Russia and Iran."