Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made his way to Washington on Monday for a marathon of meetings with US President Barack Obama and other top officials, with Iran the major focus. On Tuesday, Netanyahu will travel to New York, as the final speaker at this year’s UN General Assembly, where he has promised to “tell the truth about Iran” following Tehran’s recent moves toward detente with the West. The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday afternoon’s developments as they unfolded.
Netanyahu schedule includes meet with Obama, press statement, lunch with Biden
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is currently en route to Washington. Once he lands he will meet with US President Barack Obama, after which he will have lunch with Obama and Vice President Joe Biden before heading to Foggy Bottom for a meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry.
Netanyahu and Obama are expected to make a statement after their meeting, at about noon, but reporters will not be given the chance to ask questions.
Tonight, the prime minister will go back to New York for his speech tomorrow at the United Nations General Assembly, the last by a world leader at the session.
He recently extended his trip an extra day to conduct interviews with the American press, a possible sign that he is trying to counter Iranian President Hasan Rouhani’s charm offensive with one of his own.
The battle over sanctions
Israel’s Washington offensive on Monday is being portrayed by some as a “battle over sanctions.” Indeed, The Times of Israel’s Raphael Ahren reports that Netanyahu will use his meeting to urge the Americans not to let up on sanctions on Iran, arguing that the measures are what has forced the Islamic Republic to come to the table for a possible deal to curb uranium enrichment.
On Sunday, CBS aired an interview with John Kerry in which he promised that the US would need to see action, not just words, before it considered lifting economic penalties on Iran.
Netanyahu lands in Washington
Netanyahu has now landed in Washington for a series of marathon meetings.
Speaking to Israel Radio this morning, US envoy to Israel Dan Shapiro suggested that there was no intelligence the prime minister could show Obama to sway him on Iran, since the two countries share information already.
Shutdown and BB get billing over Bibi
With a government shutdown looming over Washington, the Israeli delegation may have found themselves the victims of some inopportune timing.
Most American news outlets are leading with the shutdown, which will take effect at midnight tonight US time unless Congress can come together to pass a spending bill, with Netanyahu’s visit getting scant attention.
Even the finale of TV show “Breaking Bad” is getting more attention by most US news outlets, like USA Today, where Walter White, Miley Cyrus and “Anchorman” all get space over Netanyahu and Obama. If only Iran were making meth and not nukes.
Netanyahu headed to White House
After keeping his delegation and the press waiting for about 15 minutes, Netanyahu has finally left the plane and is on his way to the White House.
The new red line?
While waiting for Netanyahu to leave the plane, Times of Israel news editor Elie Leshem took a stab at what the prime minister might present at the United Nations this year.
Peres, underlining Israel’s wariness, all but calls Rouhani a liar
The Times of Israel’s Raphael Ahren, who is traveling with the prime minister, says Netanyahu may present US leaders with new intelligence showing that the Iranian drive to the bomb has not slowed since Rouhani took office in August. “With that in mind,” writes Ahren in his scene-setter, Netanyahu is set “to urge Obama to bolster rather than reduce economic sanctions. And he is expected to highlight Israel’s insistence that it reserves the right to defend itself against the Iranian nuclear threat as it sees fit, and seek to have Obama reiterate that all options remain on the table in confronting the rogue Iranian nuclear program.”
In an op-ed yesterday, Times of Israel editor David Horovitz says Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s advancement of Rouhani is looking increasingly like a masterstroke. “Whether the supreme leader had this all mapped out, anticipating that Rouhani would first capture the people’s vote at home, and then sally forth to such spectacular effect overseas, or whether he has been pleasantly surprised by Rouhani’s capacity to so rapidly remake the Islamic Republic’s international image without a single substantive concession on the nuclear front, the result has surely exceeded even his most optimistic visions.”
If the West “melts in the warmth of a duplicitous Rouhani embrace,” Horovitz warns, “if the threat of military intervention is further weakened and economic pressure eased without the regime being rendered incapable of speeding to the bomb, Iran will have thoroughly outsmarted the US and those who depend on American leadership.”
In The Hague earlier today, meanwhile, Shimon Peres, who has NOT been a critic of the nascent US-Iran detente, nonetheless acidly noted the contrast between Rouhani’s sweet-tempered words at the UN General Assembly and the reality back in Iran. Essentially, Peres called Rouhani a liar: “Rouhani’s speech to the United Nations was impressive,” said Israel’s president, “but it was based on a false reality, as Iranian centrifuges, at this very moment, continue to work and produce enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb, the program to develop long-range missiles which can carry nuclear warheads is being expanded and the Revolutionary Guards continue to support terror organizations.”
Netanyahu called ‘war criminal’ at White House protest
Netanyahu has arrived at the White House, but even before he makes it inside the gates he is greeted by a small anti-Israel protest, with some calling the prime minister a “war criminal.”
Other witty gems from the protesters, reports Raphael Ahren, include:
“More talks, no war with Iran”
“Bibi should be doing time”
“Settlements are a crime, freedom for Palestine!”
Protesters outside White House
Some pictures of the protesters outside the White House. Not quite Tahrir Square.
Some half dozen people are calling for a boycott and to free Gaza, and another 10-15 members of ultra-Orthodox anti-Zionist sect Neturei Karta are also there.
Yadlin: Israel may yet come out on top
Times of Israel military correspondent Mitch Ginsburg reports that Amos Yadlin, the former head of Military Iintelligence and current director of the Institute for National Security Studies, wrote on Sunday in an INSS journal that while the Iranian charm offensive was likely “an exercise in deceit,” the negotiations between the US and Iran could go in three directions, “two of which could be positive for Israel.”
The first, while surely not fulfilling all of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s demands — no enrichment; the removal of all the enriched uranium from Iran; and the suspension of all activity at the underground facility at Fordo and at the plutonium reactor in Arak — would, nonetheless, be considered good if it could “keep Iran far from the bomb,” or at least significantly farther than where it stands today and with far tighter supervision, thereby minimizing the threat of a sprint to nuclear arms.
The second, “a resounding failure” in the negotiations would “grant legitimacy” to what Yadlin diplomatically termed “other actions designed to stop the project.”
The most significant challenge, though, is preventing what Yadlin called “a bad agreement” — the sort that entails partial measures from the Iranians in exchange for economic succor, and keeps Tehran within sprinting distance of the bomb.
“It is important to understand, influence, and if possible reach a conclusion on what America’s policy will be if the negotiations fail or the agreement is violated in the future, and how effective levers of influence on Iran — sanctions and a credible military option — can be preserved, as only they are capable of changing the Iranian behavior,” Yadlin wrote.
What’s all the fuss about?
Netanyahu and Obama are slated to emerge for a press conference any minute now. While we wait, Times of Israel analyst Avi Issacharoff writes that all the fuss over Obama’s phone call to Rouhani last week is being blown way out of proportion:
“Many analysts have already determined with utmost certainty that the Rouhani outreach is just an elaborate Iranian scheme, while others are equally convinced that we are truly witnessing a strategic change in Tehran. I believe some caution is still required, as well as time, in order to understand if and how much Iran has actually shifted course. The likelihood of Tehran halting uranium enrichment altogether is quite low, though it may agree to enrich uranium at levels that suggest no intention of producing a nuclear bomb.”
Revolutionary Guards head unhappy with Rouhani outreach
In Iran, the head of the Revolutionary Guards Corps reportedly chided Rouhani for speaking with Obama during the Iranian president’s recent trip to New York.
General Mohammad Ali Jafari told Iran’s Tasnim News Agency that instead of speaking by telephone with Obama, he should have waited for concrete changes in American policy.
He also praised Rouhani for his “correct stance” at the UN General Assembly
When Rouhani met an undercover Israeli agent
Mitch Ginsburg also reports on a meeting between an undercover Israeli agent and Hasan Rouhani, then the deputy chairman of the Iranian parliament, at the height of the Iran-Contra affair:
Rouhani, in discussing ways to facilitate the release of seven US hostages then being held in Lebanon, gave the Israeli the following advice: “First and foremost, you have to be firm with [Iranian leader Ayatollah] Khomeini. Stand strongly before him…If you don’t bare sharp teeth before Khomeini, you’re going to have troubles all over the world. [But] if you threaten him with military force, he’ll kiss your hand and run.”
The conversation between the late Amiram Nir, who was working as prime minister Shimon Peres’s adviser on counter-terror, and Rouhani, was brokered by Iranian arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar and conducted in a Paris hotel. Nir wore a wire. In May 1994, some five and a half years after Nir’s mysterious death, Yedioth Ahronoth military correspondent Ron Ben-Yishai published the details of the meeting, which recently resurfaced on the Israeli website Fresh.
‘US leaders reassuring Israel’
Israel’s Channel 2 reports: US leaders are making it clear they want to reassure Israel that “we are on the same page.” Obama wants Netanyahu to leave feeling reassured and good. The US message: Nothing has changed regarding our position that Iran will not be allowed to attain nuclear weapons.
Obama says it’s important Iran doesn’t get bomb
Obama:We agreed it is paramount that Iran doesn't get nuclear weapons
— Barak Ravid (@BarakRavid) September 30, 2013
All options remain on table, Obama says
Obama tells Netanyahu that all options remain on the table, Israel Radio reports.
Netanyahu tells Obama that the bottom line — that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon — is what is important.
The pair also discussed Syrian chemical weapons. Obama calls them “horrible” weapons.
PM urges sanctions be bolstered
Netanyahu calls for sanctions on Iran to be strengthened for diplomacy to succeed. Says he remains committed to peace process with Palestinians.
Obama entering talks with Iran clear-eyed
The Associated Press reports:
Obama says the US is entering negotiations with Iran clear-eyed. He says Iran seems ready to negotiate, but diplomacy must be tested. He says the US isn’t taking any options off the table, including military action.
Obama is also thanking Netanyahu for entering into “good faith” peace negotiations with Palestinians. But he says there’s limited time to reach an accord.
Obama says US will work closely with Israel on issue
Meeting between Obama and Netanyahu ends.
Channel 2 reports: Obama says they will not do anything until they see actions from the Iranian side. Says US will work closely with Israel on Iranian issue.
Obama also spends some time speaking about looming government shutdown.
Netanyahu says Iran still committed to Israel’s destruction
Netanyahu says he appreciates US sanctions on Iran in light of global concerns about its nuclear program. He says that, for diplomacy to work, “Those pressures must be kept in place.”
Netanyahu also says Iran remains committed to Israel’s destruction. (AP)
Netanyahu says credible threat and sanctions will bring resolution
Netanyahu says it is “Israel’s firm belief that if Iran continues to advance its nuclear program during negotiations, the sanctions should be strengthened.”
He adds that it is the combination of a credible military threat and strong sanctions that will bring the nuclear crisis to a peaceful resolution.
Netanyahu possibly calmed by Obama meeting
Initial reaction after press conference is that both Obama and Netanyahu seemed calm, collected and friendly.
Netanyahu’s demeanor could mean his concerns have been eased, or it could be that he has few options given his position and Iran’s charm offensive.
A pundit tells al-Jazeera that Netanyahu is now only looking for a firm timetable, which has always been an issue between the sides.
Channel 2’s Udi Segal, at the White House, tweets meanwhile that he believes the main bone of contention is whether to fully or partially dismantle Iran’s nuclear program.
Netanyahu endorses peace efforts with Palestinians
Netanyahu ends remarks by saying he remains committed to Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. An accord holds the promise of a “better future” for all, he says.
Canadian FM: charm offensive no substitute for real action
Attention may be on Washington, but in New York, Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird warned the UN on Monday against falling for Iran’s public relations push.
“Sound bites do not remove threats to global security. Kind words, a smile and a charm offensive are not a substitute for real action,” he said, according to the Toronto Star.
Canada, considered one of Israel’s closest allies, shut down relations with Iran over a year ago, winning applause from Jerusalem.
Baird said he would be happy to reopen ties with Tehran, but once he sees real change from the regime.
“Nothing would make Canada more pleased than to see a change in Iran’s nuclear ambitions. A change to its terrible human rights record. And an end to Iran’s material support for terrorism,” he said.
Window won’t stay open forever, US official says
White House adviser Ben Rhodes tells Channel 2 that there is no hard-and-fast time frame for negotiations, but talks with Iran will not be open-ended.
“The window is not going to stay open forever,” Rhodes says.
He adds that the Obama administration is testing Iran’s new leadership and that there will not be any lifting of sanctions until the US sees action by the Iranians, a common refrain in Washington.
“We are not going to make any changes on the basis of their words,” he says. “There won’t be sanctions relief on the front end of negotiations.”
Rhodes says that all options are on the table, but the US would like to see a diplomatic solution, which would benefit Israel’s security.
Iran paper publishes interview with US official
The Iranian drive toward detente didn’t end when Rouhani touched back down in Tehran. Max Fisher at The Washington Post reports that the Farsi-language newspaper Shargh put an interview with a US state Department official on page A1, the first major foray for Persian outreach official Alan Eyre in the Iranian media.
According to Fisher, “Eyre didn’t offer anything revolutionary in the interview, mostly just reiterating the US position that it’s open to talks and deal-making on the nuclear issue, but that it wants to see Iran demonstrate its good faith. Still, it’s widely perceived in Iran that the United States is committed to not just curbing Iran’s nuclear development, but to the outright destruction of the Islamic Republic political system, so it’s not insignificant for the United States to be able to communicate its much more modest aims directly to the Iranian people.”
J street calls for ‘real leadership’ on Israeli-Palestinian peace talks
J Street, which is having a conference across town from the White House, wasted no time in responding to Obama and Netanyahu’s statements, saying that the Iranians aren’t the only ones that need to follow words with actions.
“With serious peace talks with the Palestinians underway, it was reassuring to hear Prime Minister Netanyahu’s renewed commitment to the negotiations,” J Street chief Jeremy Ben-Ami said in a statement. “But we need more than good vibes. We need real leadership from both Netanyahu and President Abbas to step forward and make the tough decisions to actually get to an agreement, and we are going to need strong decisive leadership from the United States to bridge the gaps to help them get there.”
On Iran, Ben-Ami called for the US to keep diplomacy on the table.
“The president’s insistence on real and verifiable actions is absolutely correct. We should avoid doing anything that would weaken Rouhani’s ability to negotiate and strengthen the hardliners in Tehran,” he said. “If Rouhani can deliver real and meaningful concessions to bring Iran’s nuclear program back into compliance with UN resolutions, the international community and the United States must have the flexibility to reciprocate.”