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Israel’s prime minister lobbied hard against proposals offered by Western diplomats over Iran’s nuclear program. Disagreement between the U.S. and Israel over concessions from Iran and next steps in the diplomatic process.
- Aaron David Miller Vice president and distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, and former U.S. Middle East adviser in Republican and Democratic administrations.
- Trita Parsi President of National Iranian American Council and author of "A Single Roll of the Dice - Obama's Diplomacy with Iran."
- Ambassador Nicholas Burns Politics professor, Harvard University and senior foreign affairs columnist, Global Post; former under secretary of state.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Today Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to meet senators behind closed doors. His goal is to keep Congress from implementing a new round of sanctions on Iran. At the same time, Congress is hearing a very different message from Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
MS. DIANE REHMHere to discuss the disagreement between the U.S. and Israel over concessions from Iran and next diplomatic steps, Aaron David Miller of the Woodrow Wilson International Center, Trita Parsi of the National Iranian American Council, and joining us from studios at Harvard University, Nicholas Burns.
MS. DIANE REHMHe's professor of politics at Harvard, senior foreign affairs columnist for the Global Post. And throughout the hour, we'll welcome your questions, comments. Join us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Thank you all for being with us.
MR. AARON DAVID MILLERGreat to be here.
MR. TRITA PARSIThank you for having us.
DR. NICHOLAS BURNSThank you.
REHMAaron David Miller, if I could start with you, John Kerry is meeting behind closed doors with senators today. What do you expect him to say?
MILLERI mean, I think he has to first make the case as to why additional sanctions would not help the negotiating process. If, in fact, Congress is interested in creating additional disincentives, that it ought to be time-driven, that is to say, give me X number of weeks to see if I can reach this deal, you want to pass legislation, do it proactively, so that on date certain sanctions could be implemented, number one.
MILLERNumber two, let me explain to you exactly why the deal we're in the process of working out is compelling. It's a deal that isn't perfect, but it's good enough to deal with your concerns. And here's why. And unless the secretary of state does this -- and I would argue the president, who has already identified this issue as one of the two top priorities in the Middle East -- they may well lose the political battle. And if they lose the political battle, it's going to be really tough to sustain a negotiation and an agreement.
REHMAnd to you, Nick Burns, Congress is hearing very different message from Israel's prime minister. What's his message, and why is it Congress so receptive?
BURNSWell, Prime Minister Netanyahu, of course, as most Israelis, is very much concerned with what he perceives to be an existential threat to the state of Israel from an Iranian nuclear weapons program, which, of course, is at the center of this. Will Iran become a nuclear weapons power?
BURNSAnd given Jewish history, given Israel's history, the prime minister is very concerned that we not make too many concessions to the Iranians at this point, that we keep the international sanctions on Iran so, and therefore, Diane, combine both diplomacy and negotiations but also the threat of force and these very tough sanctions.
BURNSI think Israel has legitimate concerns here, but I'm worried that the prime minister is really making much more of U.S.-Israeli public agreement and thereby weakening the U.S. and Israel in front of Iran. I think it's one thing to have a disagreement with President Obama and Secretary Kerry and to keep that private.
BURNSBut when he came out publicly last Thursday and Friday -- before this agreement had already been made, in the middle of the negotiation -- I thought it was a tactical mistake on his part. It weakened Israel, and it weakened the American-Israeli coalition. So I would hope that Israel would trust this administration because I think President Obama has been very tough-minded on Iran.
REHMTrita Parsi, tell us what prompted this latest round of talks.
PARSIWhat prompted the talks or what prompted the breakdown of the talks?
REHMNo, first the talks.
PARSIWell, I think what you have in Iran right now, after the elections, is a new administration who have been at this game in the past, before Ahmadinejad came to power. And I think some of the key people in that new administration, Rouhani himself, as well as the Foreign Minister Zarif, have a very different world view, a very different approach to international politics, and a very different view of the West than many of the very, very radical and hardline people inside the Iranian government do.
PARSIBoth of them have spent a lot of time in the West. In fact, in Iran, Zarif is often times being accused of having spent more time in the U.S. or in the West than in Iran itself, having done his PhD and studies here in the U.S. And in the past, they also show they had a different approach to these negotiations, in the sense that in 2001 it was this team that was at the helm of an effort by the Iranians to support the United States in Afghanistan. It was a very fruitful but limited collaboration that ended when President Bush put Iran in the axis of evil.
PARSI2003, they sent over comprehensive negotiation proposal. And there's other examples of this as well. And I think this is an indication that these are individuals who believe that ultimately Iran's national interest is better served by trying to find some sort of accommodation and some sort of an agreement between the U.S. and Iran.
PARSII don't think they're looking for a partnership. And I think that President Rouhani made that kind of clear in his U.N. address when he said that there should be a way to manage the differences between the United States and Iran. That's not a partnership. That's a way of making sure that the problems between them don't get out of control.
REHMBut you believe and you wrote that the deal with Iran would have been a good one.
PARSII think the deal would have been a very good one for the United States. I also believe it would have been a very good one for Israel because, at the end of the day, what is absolutely critical is to make sure that the Iranians don't have a dash-out capability, that their ability to try to cheat and go and build a bomb can be detected at the earliest possible stage, giving the world ample time to be able to stop it.
PARSIAnd the only way to achieve that is to make sure that there are various types of limitations to the program, as well as the additional prodigal to the Nonproliferation Treaty that gives the world the most intrusive inspections regime available to us. And if that is achieved, then essentially the Iranians will have something that is a win for them.
PARSIThey can continue to have limited enrichment on their soil. And it's important to understand this point, by the way. If the Iranians don't feel that they have something that they have won, they're going to cheat. They're not going to stick to the deal. A durable deal has to be something that both sides find valuable.
REHMAaron David Miller, do you agree, negotiations, diplomacy are the right way to go?
MILLERWell, there's no question that before you consider the alternative, which would be a military strike either by Israel or by the United States, that absolutely you have to go to -- I would argue -- almost extreme lengths to see whether or not a good deal or a deal that's good enough can be reached. It's critically important that we not trivialize Israelis' concerns on this or exaggerate them.
MILLERIt's finding the balance between the two that will determine whether or not you end up with an Israel or, for that matter, a Saudi Arabia or, for that matter, a U.S. Congress that, at the end of this process, is aggrieved, angry and still believes that their (word?) and requirements haven't been satisfied.
MILLERThis point -- Nick raised it -- it's not a question of tactics or strategy on the part of the prime minister. This man is driven, in large part, by a world view, which, unlike that of Rabin and Barak, is very much fundamentally suspicious. He, unlike some of his predecessors, simply does not take -- not only does he not take Israeli security requirements for granted. He does not take the continued survival of Israel as an enterprise for granted. He uses holocaust imagery to explain current Israeli threats. Rabin would never have done that.
MILLERNeither would Ehud Barak, who shied away from this. This is a critically important point because when you argue that Netanyahu has made a tactical mistake, he may have, but it is the reality of the Israeli prime minister that you're dealing with. And it's going to have to somehow be -- the balance will have to somehow be struck.
BURNSWell, I agree very much with Aaron. Israel has legitimate concerns here. I think any prime minister of Israel would have to take a very, very hard-nose attitude towards Iran. And there's something, Diane, that we've got to put on the table. We are being subjected to a charm offensive by Rouhani and Zarif. They may very well be moderates in the Iranian political spectrum, but they represent a government that has lied to the entire world for about 15 years about what they're doing. They have violated all of the U.N. Security Council sanctions, resolutions going back to December of 2006.
REHMSo you're saying there's good reason not to trust them?
BURNSI don't think we can trust the current Iranian government. I'm for a negotiated settlement. I very much support what the president is trying to do and get them to the table, but I'm trying to support Israel's point of view here and a tough-minded American view by saying we shouldn't be fooled by the charm offensive.
BURNSBehind Rouhani and Zarif is the Ayatollah Khamenei, a supreme leader, very cynical tough-minded person, and the Revolutionary Guards. And so Iran is a supplicant here. Iran has to convince Israel and the United States that it's going to agree to a deal that will be held. And if we think Iran is going to cheat, that's not a good deal for the United States. So I don't think it's a disaster an agreement wasn't reached last weekend because this has to be the right deal for us.
REHMSo, Trita Parsi, why do you think the talks broke down?
PARSIWell, all details are now known, but what I think has been able to be patched together, talking to folks on many different sides of this is that there was in Geneva one proposition made by the Iranians that became the framework of the negotiations, something that defined the end-state of the negotiations, but at the same time also started defining what the first step would be. That proposition was accepted by the Western block, by the P5-plus-1. And negotiations on the details of Step 1 became underway in Geneva, too.
PARSIBut then in last minute, it appears that the French Foreign Minister Fabius showed up and started making a few new demands. Some of them that first were reported was on plutonium plant in Iraq, but something that appears to have been more central was question marks about the endgame that had already been agreed upon, leaving many to believe that this was a changing of the goalposts. And this caused the talks to continue for much longer than was scheduled, and at the end of it there wasn't an agreement.
REHMTrita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, he's author of a book titled, "A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama's Diplomacy with Iran." Short break here, we'll talk more, take your calls. Stay with us.
REHMAnd we're talking about ongoing negotiations between the U.S. and Iran over nuclear materials. Israel has not been involved in those talks but has certainly made its wishes and its desires known. Nick Burns, just before the break, Trita Parsi was talking about the role of the French and how they came in with end stage negotiations at the last minute. What's your reaction to that? Can we lay the breakdown of the talks at the feet of the French?
BURNSI don't think we should. Diane, as you know, I'm a former American diplomat involved in a lot of negotiations, including on this issue. And we had a mantra in the Clinton Administration and the Bush Administration, nothing's agreed until everything's agreed. And so the French had an absolute right to raise this objection about the Iraq heavy water reactor. It could produce plutonium in the future. That's a different route to a nuclear weapon. It was very tough minded of them.
BURNSIt, frankly, strengthened the position of the United States and the other countries. And it's interesting, when Secretary Kerry spoke on Monday morning in Abu Dhabi where he was meeting with the Emirati leadership, he said publicly it wasn't the French who scuttled the deal. It was the Iranians who couldn't agree to it.
BURNSAnd I think one of the problems we're going to have here in any agreement reached at a place like Geneva is, will the Iranian government agree? Not just Zarif, the reformist foreign minister, but the supreme leader in the Revolutionary Guards and the National Security Council. I think Iran's at fault for this past weekend but it's recoverable. These negotiations will continue and a deal still might be reached.
PARSII think it's interesting what Nick is saying because, at the end of the day, it's always been very important for the United States to make sure that there is P5 unity in these negotiations. So even when the French cause the problem, it's going to be the default position to try to keep unity with the P5 to make sure that the Iranians cannot divide the different parties from within the P5. Because if the P5 gets divided, it's going to be much more difficult to negotiate with the Iranians.
PARSISo we're going to be over-lenient in forgiving the French and perhaps even blaming the Iranians. The Russians came out incidentally and said it was the fault of the Iranians. And we already see that there's tensions. And people who are on the ground in Geneva saw very clearly that there was a lot of frustration with what the French were doing. And they were not seeing it as if it was something that was actually helping the United States. Now in the end, perhaps Nick will end up being right that this actually could be salvaged and it won't be a problem, and we can all forget about this.
PARSIBut I think it was also important to realize that there's a very valid point that Nick is making about we have to be careful. Will the other elements of the Iranian government agree to what Rouhani and Zarif are negotiating? But we can also not ignore the fact that at this point they seem to have maximum amount of maneuverability and support from Khamenei. In the middle of the negotiations in Geneva when they were getting stuck, Khamenei sends out a Tweet saying that he supports his negotiators.
MILLERYeah, there's a history here, too, with the French. They've been extremely tough on the Iranians throughout, number one. And, number two, they were supportive of the Iraqi nuclear program against Israeli objections. And I think that has provided a sort of predicate for the French reaction today. There's also history with respect to the U.S. Israeli relationship when it comes to Netanyahu and Obama, and it is fundamental not to forget this. 2009, 2010, this is the most dysfunctional relationship between an American president and Israeli prime minister that I had seen...
MILLER...in the course of, you know, 25 years of working on negotiations as well. You had the perception on the part of the president that Benjamin Netanyahu was not interested in reciprocity. It was always his political interests and in fact that he was this sort of a conman in the president's mind. And in the mind of the prime minister, the president emerged as a man -- a young president, unfamiliar with Israeli security (unintelligible) requirements, literally bloodless when it came to recognizing the legitimate problems of a tiny power in a tough neighborhood.
MILLERThis is not Bill Clinton who had an emotional intuitive connection with his Israeli Prime Minister Rabin. And it wasn't even George W. Bush who in that famous line when he was governor flying in the helicopter with Sherone (sp?) in his Texas accent says, Mr. Minister, we got driveways in Texas that are longer than this country is wide.
MILLERThis sort of intuitive bonding was not Obama's with Netanyahu. And that history is now coming back. I'm concerned that this is a kind of reversion to the sort of natural state intendancy of the Obama-Netanyahu relationship. And I hope that's not the case.
REHMNick Burns, on Sunday Netanyahu told CBS, "Iran gives practically nothing, and it gets a hell of a lot. That's not a good deal." He also went before the general assembly at the U.N. and said, it's a bad and dangerous deal, and the effects are survival. You said earlier that you though that his speaking out as forcefully was a tactical mistake. Do you think he is really trying to win over world opinion and undercut the U.S. on this deal?
BURNSWell, it certainly looks that way. It looks like the prime minister has concluded that he doesn't believe that the type of deal that the Obama Administration is considering is in Israel's interest. And so he has mounted a full bore campaign publicly in the United States and around the world against this. Here's the problem with it. Israel needs the United States, and it needs a close trusting relationship with the United States. Aaron is exactly right. There's a crisis right now between Israel and the United States.
BURNSThe person on the American side who's trying to reach out to Prime Minister Netanyahu is John Kerry, the secretary of state. Kerry flew to Jerusalem just before he went to Geneva last week for the Iran talks, to reassure Netanyahu. And then what he got in return was a public lambasting from the prime minister in a public lecture -- not very smart, I think, on the prime minister's part.
BURNSAnd the second point, Diane, if we're going to trust a negotiated deal -- and I'm for a negotiated settlement with Iran. I think the president's right to negotiate -- the final score cannot be U.S., 100, Iran, nothing. We're going to have to compromise a little bit. And if we can get the kind of deal we think we can get, we'll have to give a little bit. And I think Israel needs to understand that because the alternative to negotiations could well be the use of force, which is a very perilous prospect for the U.S. and Israel.
REHMWhat about the Israeli public? Does the prime minister's statements -- do the prime minister's statements represent the people of Israel, Aaron?
MILLERYou know, when it comes to military action, which is the default position if in effect there is no negotiated solution, the Israeli public was deeply divided. The Israeli security establishment is deeply divided. You'll find some individuals like Amos Yadlin, who is the former head of the IDF's Military Intelligence, who basically accepts the proposition that you're not going to get a perfect deal and that you really do need to give diplomacy the benefit of the doubt now.
MILLERAnd the objective here is to put time on the clock, is just freeze and retard Iran's nuclear program during the next six months so that, in effect, you can see where the final deal is. But one final point. Let's be very clear. I think Trita will agree with me on this. Once scientific knowledge enters the consciousness of a society -- you master the field sector, you know how to enrich uranium -- it's hard to extract it.
MILLERSo you're never going to get to a position where you have so much certainty and so much definitive assuredness. And that's part of the problem with this deal. It's not like an Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.
REHMSo where then does the U.S. have to give on this deal?
MILLERI think it's -- you know, negotiations are based on a balance of interest. If you compare this deal to the perfect end state, which would be Iran's total capitulation, you can't. We're going to have to ensure that the Iranian nuclear program, the most troubling aspects of its military dimension are suspended, frozen and in fact retarded for the next six months. And we are going to have to provide the kinds of incentives to make that real, which will amount to limited sanctions relief. There's no other way around this balance of interest.
REHMNick Burns, is Israel interested in any negotiations at this point?
BURNSWell, I think Aaron's right that's Israel's divided. If you're asking about the prime minister of Israel, he appears to be deeply skeptical. But if you look at the range of military leaders, former intelligence chiefs, members of the (word?), there is a very divided Israeli opinion right now on this. And I think at this point Israel has no option but to trust the United States.
BURNSAnd as Aaron said, if we can get a deal that prevents Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons power, that opens Iran up to full inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, that prevents them from building up a stock of highly enriched uranium, that deal is in the interest of the United States. What we will have to give is some form of limited enrichment for a civil program by Iran. That's the zone of agreement here.
REHMBut what about the U.S. Congress, Trita Parsi, and the extent that they perhaps may be persuaded by Prime Minister Netanyahu that negotiations should not go forward?
PARSICongress is in a position to create significant problems not just at this stage but also at the final stage. At this stage, they can do so by going forward with new sanctions at this point, whether they're convinced...
REHMWhich is what the prime minister is urging.
PARSI...what the prime minister's asking for. But even if it hadn't been for the prime minister, we should also be quite clear there are plenty of elements in Congress right now -- I think we saw that in this city very clearly just weeks ago -- who are by default opposed to anything the president does and has an interest to create those problems regardless of whether the Israeli prime minister is saying this or not.
PARSIAnd if they impose new sanctions at this point, I think it sends a very negative psychological message. Because the Iranian government has taken a very different position from what it had just months ago when Ahmadinejad was using his extremely provocative and venomous rhetoric.
PARSIAnd if the first practical response is to this new approach that there's more sanctions, then it really significantly limits the maneuverability of the Rouhani government. And unfortunately the law of human interaction seems to be that if one side does something stupid and provocative, the other side feels the urge to do the same.
REHMAaron, do you see something stupid happening?
MILLERI mean, I believe that Congress needs to give the administration a finite period of time to allow this test that we can actually reach an agreement.
REHMHow much time?
MILLERWell, look, you're talking about a relationship between the U.S. and Iran that is half a century of dysfunction. I mean, having negotiated on the Israeli issue, it's clear time is not an ally of this process. But we have to be real about how much time it's going to take to do a negotiation. You do not turn around a relationship like this in one or two meetings. And while the longer this drifts, the more opportunity it provides enemies of the process to scuttle it. We have to be realistic about how long it's going to take, an additional month?
REHMAn additional month, you think. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Nick Burns, I know you wanted to get in on that.
BURNSJust two quick points, Diane. I think the administration's going to need three or four months to negotiate a final agreement. What was being discussed in Geneva was just an interim agreement. We've not talked to the Iranians in 34 years, and therefore we've got to exhaust negotiations before we think about going to war.
BURNSBut here's a second point, Diane. It's not a bad thing for Obama and Kerry to have Congress and Israel out threatening sanctions and threatening force. It's good cop, bad cop variety to these negotiations where Obama and Kerry can point to the Congress and say to the Iranians, if you don't work with us right now, you're going to have to deal with the congress later. So this is not a bad thing for the administration.
PARSITwo points as well. First one is, it's exactly because of what Aaron said that the deal -- the interim deal would've been good because it would've frozen some key elements of the Iranian program. That adds time to the clock, which is exactly what is needed in order to make sure that we can exhaust negotiations in the manner that Nick said.
PARSIWhen it comes to the idea of pressuring or having congress or Netanyahu making the threat of more sanctions, thinking that this is putting more pressure on the Iranians, I think we should be a bit careful about that because I don't think it's just putting pressure on the Iranians. In this specific event in which Congress was making threats of going forward with new sanctions, I actually thought it put more pressure on the Obama Administration to try to get the deal faster than what they originally thought that they had.
PARSIThey originally thought that they had 60 days in which they could get this done. And they were hoping to finish this sometime by December or early January. It ended up being one weekend because of this threat of sanctions. It ended up pressuring the administration more so than the Iranians.
REHMSo what happens next? What happens if nothing happens?
PARSIWell, something is going to happen because they're meeting again on the 20th, 21st and potentially on the 22nd of November. It's going to be at the political director's level. And they're going to give it another go. There's going to be a lot of conversations both internally within the P5 inside of Iran. And they're going to go back to the table and see if they can recreate this momentum for diplomacy that did exist in Geneva, too.
PARSIAnd there's a lot of people who believe that at the end of the day this has to succeed because, look, what the president's -- or what Jim Carney of the -- spokesperson for the White House said yesterday. He said that if we don't get this, we're going to be looking down the barrel of a war with Iran. And the American people don't want a march towards war. That's why we have to make diplomacy succeed.
REHMDo you think it's an either/or there, Aaron?
MILLERI think the question again is time. Assuming there is no negotiation that is consummated, interim or final, and sanctions are applied and matters are left to drift, then essentially the Iranians will use the intervening period to acquire something they're probably fairly close to already.
REHMAnd do you think if an agreement is reached, we can trust that the development of weapons will cease?
MILLERI think that after 50 years of dysfunction between more -- between the U.S. and Iran, trust isn't the issue. The issue is whether or not you can actually get an agreement that can be verified, intrusively inspected and which essentially makes sense in hard terms. This is not a question of giving anybody the benefits of the doubt. Not given the different worlds and different planets in which our political system and Iran's, not to mention Israel's, are essentially orbiting.
MILLERThis is one of the major problems with this negotiation, the lack of trust, the lack of confidence and fundamental suspicion that it is in fact a zero sum game. And that's not the basis for a sound negotiation let alone a sustainable agreement.
REHMNick Burns, you wanted to add briefly.
BURNSI just don't think there's a reason to panic yet. We just saw round one in Geneva. They'll get back to this, as Trita has said. I think there's a possibility of an interim agreement being reached. The tough thing will be the final deal. And here I agree, I think Congress needs to let President Obama negotiate without sanctions if he's not requesting them.
REHMNick Burns, he's politics professor at Harvard University, senior foreign affairs columnist for the Global Post. And short break here. We'll open the phones when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're discussing the ongoing negotiations brought to a pause as we speak between the U.S. and Iran over nuclear weaponry. Here is an email from Russ in Punta Gorda, Fla. He says, "Do you deny that Netanyahu's constant complaining about Iran is done partly to distract us from talking about new settlements in the West Bank and Israel's move to the political and religious right," Aaron?
MILLERSettlements are a problem in their own right, and I do deny it because I think that governing is about choosing. And the prime minister's world view's informed by a long range problem, what to do about the Palestinian issue, and what he regards as a short acute problem, which is what to do about Iran.
MILLERSo, no, the problem for us is that you've got two processes with six to nine-month timelines. And they're both going to come due, Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and the Iranian nuclear issue, right about the same time, which frankly is going to overload the political circuits in Israel. And they're already overloading them here.
REHMWell, but now hasn't Israel announced that it's planning to shelf its settlement plans for now?
MILLERWell, the prime minister has, in response to a call on part of the housing ministry for 24,000 additional settlements, is basically trying to block that move. But the reality is there is not settlements freeze certainly not in Jerusalem or in the West Bank. And settlements will continue to be a significant obstacle to these negotiations, not the only one but a significant one.
REHMAll right. To Lewisburg, Pa. Hi there, David, you're on the air.
DAVIDHi. I am an American. I'm typically on the left of American politics. I lived in Israel for three years during high school and lived through daily terrorist attack attempts or actual attacks. I just wanted to give a little of the Israeli perspective. Israel deals with terrorist attacks or attempted attacks virtually every day.
DAVIDJust last week, there was a missile fired from Gaza. Iran has called for the destruction of Israel and has not only called for it but acts on that calling by supplying missiles to enemies of Israel. And the only analogy that I can think of is to imagine the week after 9/11, somebody coming to us and urging us to negotiate with bin Laden.
REHMNick Burns. Nick Burns, are you there?
BURNSYes, I'm here, Diane.
REHMDo you want to respond to that caller?
BURNSDiane, I did not hear that last call. I was offline for just a minute. Maybe Trita or Aaron could do it.
REHMThat's what I was afraid of. All right. Trita Parsi.
PARSII think it's important to understand that what the president is doing is not to try to do the Iranians a favor or try to strike a deal that only would be good for the U.S. and Iran. But what he's doing is something that would help secure the region as a whole.
PARSIAnd in fact, I think the Iranians also understand very well that if there is a deal and the Iranians manage to keep a limited enrichment program but their path towards a weapon is closed off, that that is not only a good thing for Israel right there, but also the Iranians understand that to make that deal sustainable and durable, the Iranians will have to shift their position on Israel.
PARSIThat is a side effect of the deal that is very, very good for Israel. In fact, already right now, just as negotiations have begun, the Iranian posture on Israel is dramatically different from what it was just seven, eight months ago.
REHMNick Burns, how did the secretary of state manage to get Iran to the table?
BURNSI think, first and foremost, Diane, you have to give some credit to Rouhani and Zarif, who actually wanted to have negotiations, the first Iranian team in memory in the seven years since we've been trying to negotiate. Second, the sanctions made a big difference. The economic, financial, oil and gas sanctions put on Iran by the U.S. and the E.U. had a dramatic effect. They really focused the Iranians on the tradeoffs here and the costs to be -- to stonewalling talks.
BURNSI think those two factors did make a difference. I think Rohani and Zarif probably do want an agreement with the United States and the West. The question is, does the rest of the political establishment in Tehran -- we won't know the answer until if an agreement is reached the Iranians -- Rohani and Zarif take that back to Tehran to see what the supreme leader and others think. It's well worth going down that road but there are no guarantees here.
REHMAll right. To Sugarland, Texas. Hi, Pren, (sp?) you're on the air.
PRENYes. Hi, Diane. Thank you for taking my call.
PRENYeah, I'm an independent voter. I'm not associated with any party, but I'm just thinking this from a very common sense standpoint of, if I'm negotiating a deal, I would like my friend to be on my side and my enemy to know that me and my friend are negotiating this deal together. This current negotiation just does not make sense.
PRENYou're trying to -- you're actually pushing your friend Israel away from you, and you're trying to get close to Iran. And this just does not make sense and doesn't compute. Any deal U.S. should discuss, make sure that deal is OK with Israel before you go on the table to discuss that with Iran.
MILLERWell, I mean, I would agree that, if possible, you should look at this as an effort to maintain the securities or requirements of a close ally. I think we're trying to do that. What I've tried to convey here is you've got an American president living on Mars and an Israeli prime minister living on Venus. One represents a country that has non-predatory neighbors to its north and south and literally fish to its east and west, our liquid assets, so to speak. The other guy represents a tiny country with a dark past living in a dangerous neighborhood.
MILLERThere is no way that you're going to get a strict confluence and coincidence of interest, even while the objectives may be the same, which is eliminating Iran's nuclear weapons capacity. The question is whether or not you can get enough of a balance between the two to do an agreement and then continue to see whether or not in the next six to eight months you could essentially eliminate what Israel fears most, which is an Iranian breakout capacity in a weapon.
PARSIAnd again, that's exactly what the president is doing. It seems right now there's nothing, there's no deal that Netanyahu would be happy with for many, many different reasons. And as a result the question is, is the United States not going to pursue its own interest in making sure that there isn't any breakout capability in Iran? And at the end of the day try to make the rest of the Israel establishment understand that this actually is a very good deal for them.
PARSIAnd also, I think it's worth pointing out that while true, there's fish on the east and west of the United States, Israel is not a weak country. It itself has more than 200 nuclear weapons. It has the strongest military in the region. And it can fend for itself. And what is being done right now is not a disfavor to it.
PARSIThis is something that actually is going to enhance its interests. Just because the prime minister, for many political reasons also, will never be able to come out and say that he's content with it even though he may be -- he for political reasons cannot come out and say that -- does not mean that this is something that actually is being done that is (unintelligible) Israel.
REHMAaron is looking at you very skeptically.
MILLERNo, no, no. No, Trita makes a good point, I think. And the reality is if in fact the president of the United States who does not like selling, who does not like dealing with Congress, unlike the prime minister who is doing his own degree of selling everywhere, the president cannot leave this to John Kerry. In the U.N. General Assembly speech, he identified this has a priority that had greater importance than any other for the balance of his administration. So the president's going to have to get out there and sell and create the reality that this is a compelling deal.
REHMAll right. To...
PARSII agree 100 percent.
REHM...Sean in Wassaic, N.Y. You're on the air.
SEANGood morning, and this is a fantastic show. Thank you.
SEANMy question is, considering that Israel has not been a signatory to the MPT, why should countries like Palestine and Iran take them seriously? It seems like a bit of a double standard when it comes to them as if they acquiesce to most of what everyone wants but no one seems to want to trust them.
REHMAll right. Nick Burns, do you want to comment?
BURNSI'd be very happy to. I think the fundamental reality is that most of the world trusts Israel with the forces that it has. Most of the world does not trust Iran, would not trust Iran with a nuclear weapon. And that may sound unequal, it may sound like a double standard, but that's international politics. Given Israeli history and given the threats that Israel faces, it's hard to deny from an American standpoint Israel having the means to defend itself, should that be necessary.
BURNSThe Iranians, on the other hand, particularly in the last ten years or so, have essentially lied and cheated about what they're trying to do. And no one in the region feels comfortable, not the Arab world, not Israel, not the United States, with the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran. So the weight of international opinion is just not going to be beyond the proposition that we somehow pressure Israel to disarm just because we're pressing Iran not to become a nuclear weapons power. And it's the interest of the United States to build up Israel, not to tear it down.
REHMAaron, what does it mean that the Palestinian peace talks are overlapping with the Iran nuclear talks?
MILLERYou know, if you could create a worse scenario in a laboratory, you could not have imagined one worse than this. Because, as I suggested before, sometime in early 2014, time's going to come due perhaps on both of these. And there's a certain reality here of sequence. You are not going to get an Israeli prime minister or most of the Israeli political establishment to make historic decisions on the Palestinian issue if the Iran file is uncertain and lacks clarity.
MILLERThat is simply a reality. Certainly not this Israeli prime minister. So the sequence is clear, you're going to have to figure out a way to deal with Iran. If you can't, you can hang a closed-for-the-season sign on the prospects of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement over the next year or so.
PARSIAs a final point, I think it's also important to understand what is it that Prime Minister Netanyahu actually is proposing? The four-point plan that he had with absolutely no enrichment in Iran is shipping out all of their stockpile, essentially complete capsulation is not going to happen. Nick knows. He was in the Bush Administration. When they pushed for that line, they went absolutely nowhere. So it simply is not a realistic option. So if that is the objective that the Netanyahu government wants the U.S. to adopt and it continues to fail, what is the logical conclusion?
PARSIThe logical conclusion is that at some point the pressures on the U.S. to take military action will become overwhelming. That's precisely why the president is trying to negotiate a deal that is a good deal in order to avoid that. And I think we should be very clear of what it is that Prime Minister Netanyahu actually is asking for.
REHMBut now, Nick Burns, same question I asked of Aaron, what about the sort of ongoing negotiations with the Palestinians coming at pretty much the same time. How does that affect either or both?
BURNSWell, you know, Diane, in a way we'd be very, very fortunate to be in a position say in February or March of 2014 where we had to decide which of these priorities, which of these potential successes should take priority. There's no question that the Iran issue is more immediate. It's a higher priority. It's a greater danger. It's an issue where the United States could theoretically end up in a war in 2014 or '15.
BURNSI think if the Obama Administration had to choose, they'd put a lot more emphasis on Iran in January, February, March of this year. And therefore work that with the Israeli government. Aaron is the great expert on Israel-Palestine but I think even the most optimistic person would say that peace is not around the corner there. So I think that's how President Obama and Secretary Kerry would rank order these.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." So we have 10 days until talks begin again. What needs to happen between now and then, Aaron?
MILLERI don't think we can let the U.S.-Israeli piece of this slide. I know Wendy Sherman was there to brief the prime minister, but I really do believe that in the next ten days or so we really have to try to reach some understanding with the government of Israel about what it is we're trying to do, where their limits are, what our interests are.
MILLERAnd I think the president is going to have to simply -- and the administration's going to have to mount a full court press, not to spin but to basically lay out a narrative as to why what's happening in Geneva and what could happen in the month to come essentially is a compelling good enough deal at this first phase.
MILLERIf they're not prepared to own this, then they ought to basically just abandon it. But they've got to own it.
REHMOK. But suppose Netanyahu succeeds in persuading members of Congress to impose further sanctions on Iran instead of going forward. Then what happens?
PARSIWell, then we're going to be set back The Iranians are probably going to do something unhelpful in return and then we're going to have to recapture the last couple of weeks and months in which some trust building has been made and see if we can get back to the table.
PARSII don't think the Obama Administration would give up, but I agree 100 percent with Aaron on this. The administration needs to come out and very strongly make their case, not try to get this issue through with minimum amount of effort in the public realm. They have to go out there and make their case. If they do, I think Congress will come to their side.
REHMAnd, Nick Burns, how is the administration to do that?
BURNSWell, I think there's time. Secretary Kerry's going to focus on this interim deal. He'll go back to it, try to convince Iran to give more on the Iraq heavy water reactor and therefore placate both the United States and France, number one. Number two, I think the administration will be able to convince Congress to hold off on further sanctions, at least for the time being for the next several weeks.
BURNSAnd, number three, the Israeli government needs to mend fences with the United States, close ranks publicly. There's nothing to be gained by an open Israeli-U.S. split here. So these are all tough issues but I don't think impossible. And I think there's still a chance that this interim deal can get done. Then the hard work starts, Diane, of trying to get to a final deal that may take many month.
REHMExactly. Do you think we will get to an interim agreement?
PARSII think we can get to an interim agreement. And I do agree that the final agreement also is going to be very tough. It's not going to be easy, but some of the toughest aspects of it, I think, already have been resolved.
REHMAaron, do you agree?
MILLERYou know, my own view of negotiations lately have been pretty annoyingly negative...
MILLER...as you know. And I'm not going to -- I'm just not going to prejudge this one. I mean, there's been a lot of wisdom here on Trita and Nick's part. I think we're obligated though to test and determine -- because the alternative, which is drift in ultimately confrontation holds so many uncertainties, so many risks and so many dangers that we really have to make a galactic try to work this out.
REHMAaron David Miller, Trita Parsi, Nicholas Burns, thank you so much.
BURNSThank you very much, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks to all of you for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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