WASHINGTON — American National Security Adviser Susan Rice alternated between reconciliation and pointed jabs during her address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) plenary Monday evening, a speech marked by a detailed endorsement of the Obama administration’s position on Iran talks coupled with assurances that the US will protect Israel’s security.
While she spoke out against key points of AIPAC activists’ lobbying agenda, Rice also provided previously unconfirmed information regarding the United States’ negotiating red lines on Iran.
Rice’s initial message – similar to that of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier Monday – was one of reconciliation, emphasizing that both Obama and Netanyahu have called the US-Israel alliance “unprecedented,” assuring the crowd that “that’s the way its going to stay.”
There would be no bad deal with Iran, Rice said, and set out the essential components of a good deal, while stressing she did not know whether it could be achieved. Rice told the 16,000 delegates that “a bad deal is worse than no deal” on Iran, garnering an enthusiastic standing ovation from a sometimes subdued audience. “If that is the choice there will be no deal,” she added.
Rice said President Barack Obama was committed to “ensuring that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon” and repeated the administration’s frequent statements that the US was “keeping all options on the table to prevent Iran developing a nuclear weapon.”
Apparently referring to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech Tuesday in Congress, she warned that “sensitive details” of the ongoing negotiations with Iran should not “be discussed in public.”
At the same time, she revealed new insight into Washington’s negotiating position in the P5+1 talks with Iran.
Rice said it remained to be seen whether a good, long-term comprehensive deal could be achieved. She listed the components of such a deal, including: that it would verifiably cut off every path for Iran to produce enough fissile material to produce a single nuclear weapon; prevent Iran producing weapons grade plutonium; prevent it enriching uranium at its facility at Fordow; and increase the time it takes Iran to reach break out capacity from today’s 2-3 months to at least a year.
A good deal would also counter possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program, she said, and provide ongoing access for a “multi-layer transparency regime” to ensure its nuclear program is peaceful. A deal must also last more than a decade, she said, with additional provisions ensuring greater transparency for an even longer time.
Rice’s comments weighed in on an ongoing debate on the length of a so-called ‘sunset clause’, the point at which Iran’s stricter oversight under a comprehensive nuclear agreement expires. Speaking after Rice, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) indirectly critiqued Rice’s comments, complaining that the current framework was “too far from the 20-year deal we were seeking.”
Rice also offered criticism – seemingly directed at Netanyahu – warning that “we cannot let a totally unachievable ideal stand in the way of a good deal.”
The demand that Iran halt enrichment entirely, she said, “as desirable as that would be,” was “neither realistic nor achievable… Our closest partners in the P5+1 don’t support it. If that is our goal,” she said, the US’s closest partners “will abandon us” and undermine the sanctions already imposed. “Simply put, that is not a viable negotiating position… nor is it even attainable.”
Iran would walk away, Rice warned, and install advanced centrifuges, seek to fuel its reactor in Arak, and replenish its uranium stockpile. And “we’d lose the transparency we have today.”
Audience members were reminded to behave respectfully before Rice’s speech. Earlier this week, she launched a blistering attack against Netanyahu’s speech to Congress, describing it as “destructive to the fabric” of the US-Israel relationship. Participants Monday applauded respectfully as Rice quoted Jewish texts in Hebrew and emphasized America’s support for Israel. But when Rice attempted to warn the thousands of activists of the folly of legislation that is at the core of AIPAC’s grassroots lobbying agenda when members take to Capitol Hill on Tuesday, a number of attendees applauded enthusiastically for the very initiatives she warned were counter-productive.
Before turning to Iran, Rice addressed – perfunctorily — the state of Israeli-Palestinian relations, expressing “concern” about Palestinian “unilateral actions that erode trust.”
She emphasized a longstanding US opposition to Israeli settlement activity, but in the same breath said that the US “opposes Palestinian steps that throw up obstacles to peace.”
“The only path to Israel’s security is to establish a vibrant sovereign Palestinian state living side by side with a democratic Jewish State of Israel,” Rice added.
The bottom line, said Rice: “We have Israel’s back, come hell or high water.”