NEW YORK — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu headed from New York to Washington Monday for a critical meeting with US President Barack Obama, to discuss the parameters of a possible international agreement on Iran’s nuclear program in the wake of the past week’s dramatic steps toward US-Iran rapprochement after a rupture dating back to 1979.
Also on the agenda: the future of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, said by both sides to have made little headway over the past two months, and the Russian-brokered initiative to destroy Syria’s arsenal of chemical weapons.
The White House meeting marks the first time the two leaders have sat together since Obama’s visit to Israel in March. More relevantly, it marks their first personal contact since Obama and his Iranian counterpart, Hasan Rouhani, spoke by telephone over the weekend. Israel was informed prior to the conversation, but not consulted on the content, Israeli sources said.
Set to start at 11:15 a.m. US time, the meeting was tentatively scheduled to last two hours and 15 minutes, after which Netanyahu was to meet with Vice President Joe Biden. Next, Netanyahu was to head over to the State Department for a meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry, before attending a farewell ceremony for outgoing Israeli ambassador to Washington Michael Oren on Capitol Hill. Oren is being succeeded by Netanyahu’s former senior policy adviser Ron Dermer.
In all Netanyahu’s meetings, he was expected to highlight Jerusalem’s concerns over the West’s apparent eagerness to engage with Iran following a series of moderate speeches and interviews by Rouhani in New York last week. Broadly speaking, Western powers have indicated a willingness to ease sanctions on Iran’s oil and banking industries if the regime limits its uranium enrichment and allows international inspectors access to its nuclear facilities to ensure its nuclear program has no military application. Kerry said Sunday that an agreement to resolve the nuclear standoff could be signed with three to six months and that Washington’s relationship with Tehran could “change dramatically for the better” if the Islamic Republic’s intentions turn out to be sincere.
While Jerusalem is exceedingly skeptical, and Netanyahu has urged the international community not to be fooled by Tehran’s diplomatic “smokescreen” as it speeds toward the bomb, the prime minister is not expected to try to dissuade the Americans from engaging with the Islamic Republic. Rather, he is likely to seek to discuss the substance of that engagement, in order to define the parameters of a possible deal. Netanyahu has listed four demands of Iran: that it halt uranium enrichment, remove already enriched material, close the Fordo nuclear facility, and discontinue the plutonium track in Arak.
Netanyahu will also reportedly present the 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, he is reportedly 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.
Netanyahu and Obama will likely also discuss in some detail the ongoing peace negotiations with the Palestinians. Linking the Iranian and Palestinan issues in his UN General Assembly speech last Tuesday, Obama said both had been “a major source of instability for far too long, and resolving them can help serve as a foundation for a broader peace.” Seeking a solution to these two conflicts, the US president said, would now be the major focus of US foreign policy.
While Netanyahu is in DC, Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin will remain in New York for meetings with several foreign ministers.
On Tuesday, Netanyahu, who was also accompanied to the US by Home Front Defense and Communications Minister Gilad Erdan, will be the last speaker to address the 68th United Nations General Assembly in New York. After his speech, he will meet with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. A meeting with officials from the Jewish Federations of North America is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon, after which the prime minister was originally scheduled to return to Israel. But on Sunday night, he decided to extend his stay in New York by one day, “to give interviews and briefings to the international press,” his office said.