American Jewish leaders feel they were misled by the White House in recent contacts during which Obama administration officials urged them to stop pressing for more sanctions on Iran and instead give time for the Geneva negotiations to bear fruit, The Times of Israel was told on Monday.
The US Jewish leaders feel that the administration showed a “lack of trust” in them, a source close to the contacts said.
Obama administration officials did not tell them that they had been secretly negotiating with Iran for the past year, and that the Geneva talks were really “precooked,” The Times of Israel was told, and thus it was an act of bad faith for the administration to ask the Jewish groups to hold off on pressure for more sanctions with the promise that they would meet again in 30-60 days to consider where the negotiations had led.
In fact, the Jewish leaders believe, the administration knew exactly where the negotiations would be heading, since they had secretly negotiated the terms.
Two sources told The Times of Israel they were convinced there was a secret channel of negotiations and were dismayed that the White House had not come clean about it.
Israel was also kept in the dark about the secret channel, and only learned about it from other sources, The Times of Israel was told by the sources, who asked to remain anonymous.
Contacts between US Jewish leaders and the senior American official handling the Geneva talks, Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, had been candid and emotional on occasion, The Times of Israel was told, but not impolite or unpleasant. The Jewish leaders, after all, were questioning her judgment and her approach on thwarting Iran’s nuclear drive, the sources noted.
In a November 11 statement by the ADL, its national director Abraham Foxman noted, “Both the US and Israel need each other at this pivotal moment, but do not seem to trust each other… Clearly, both countries share the same goals: regional stability, preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons, and making progress with the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. But the strategy to get there is different. At times, this creates tension between the two states when the strategy is emphasized over the goals.”
In the wake of a recent meeting with administration officials — attended by leaders of AIPAC, the ADL, AJC and Conference of Presidents — the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC stated flatly that there would be “no pause, delay or moratorium in our efforts” to seek new sanctions on Iran. The American Jewish Committee said it found the argument in favor of increased economic pressure on Iran “compelling.”
By contrast, Foxman first said he favored the administration’s request to suspend for 60 days lobbying for new congressional legislation that would intensify sanctions. Days later, however, Foxman reversed his position. In the November 11 statement, he said he had initially given the administration “the benefit of the doubt” and agreed “to refrain for a short period of time from urging the Senate to impose additional Iran sanctions as the US and other nations pursued diplomatic efforts with Iran.” Now, the statement continued, however, “having reviewed some of the points of the tentative agreement” offered to Iran in Geneva, Foxman said, “We no longer have the luxury or the option to refrain from enacting additional sanctions against Iran.”
Foxman said he had “wanted to give the Obama Administration a chance to demonstrate that they could make real progress on this issue. But rather than leading Iran to make serious concessions, the Islamic Republic has used the perception of its willingness to negotiate with the US and other nations in order to hold on to its right to enrich uranium while getting relief from some sanctions.”
He said he was convinced that the terms offered to Iran in Geneva earlier this month “will not only prematurely roll back the sanctions regime,” but would “legitimize Iran as a threshold nuclear state… The time has come for Congress, especially the Senate, not only to reconfirm and strengthen the existing sanctions, but also to begin to impose additional sanctions against Iran.”
The Geneva negotiations — between the so-called P5+1 powers and Iran — are set to resume on Wednesday.
The Channel 10 report on Sunday said the talks were a mere “facade,” because the terms of a deal on Iran’s nuclear program were negotiated in talks between a top adviser to Obama and a leading Iranian nuclear official that have continued in secret for more than a year.
Despite ostensible full coordination between the US and Israel over strategies for thwarting Iran’s nuclear weapons drive, the administration did not keep Israel fully informed on those talks, Channel 10 news reported, but Jerusalem nonetheless has a pretty clear picture of what has been going on in the secret channel.
The report, which relied on unnamed senior Israeli officials, said the US team to the secret talks was led by Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett. Her primary interlocutor, the report said, was the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Ali Akbar Salehi. The talks have been taking place in various Gulf States.
The White House denied reports that Jarrett had been involved in secret talks with Iran. “There is absolutely no truth whatsoever to the rumors put forth by anonymous sources that Valerie Jarrett has ever been involved in secret talks with Iranian officials,” spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said in an emailed statement.
In the course of the talks, the Channel 10 report said, the Americans offered the Iranians a series of “confidence-building measures,” which underlined American readiness to conclude a deal and undercut sanctions pressure.
It was the deal discussed in these secret talks, the report said, that the Americans then brought to Geneva earlier this month, where it was largely adopted by the P5+1 nations — the US, Britain, France, Russia, China, plus Germany.
France has indicated that it raised objections to the proposed terms, while US Secretary of State John Kerry said the deal was so “tough” that the Iranians had to return to Tehran to take a decision on whether to sign it. The Geneva talks are set to resume on Wednesday.
According to Channel 10, the secret channel marginalized Kerry, and was overseen by the president. The idea had been for Kerry merely to fly to Geneva, as he did last Friday, to sign a deal in which he had been a bit player. In the event, factors such as the French stance, and Israel’s very public objections, derailed this plan, and the talks broke up last Saturday without an agreement.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has publicly fumed at the terms that were offered to Iran at Geneva, including an easing of non-core sanctions under an arrangement whereby Iran would still be permitted to enrich uranium to 3.5%. Netanyahu wants all sanctions retained, and all enrichment to be frozen, as a first step toward the dismantling of Iran’s entire “military nuclear” program.
Nevertheless, the expectation in Jerusalem is that a deal is on the way in the near future. Kerry, with whom Netanyahu has been engaged in a public sniping match in recent days, is due back in Israel at the end of this week, after the Geneva talks resume.
Sunday’s Channel 10 report was not the first to assert a secret US-Iran channel involving Obama aide Jarrett. In November 2012, the daily Yedioth Ahronoth said, Jarrett — a Chicago lawyer born in Shiraz, Iran, to American parents, and a good friend of Obama’s — was “a key figure in secret contacts the White House is conducting with the Iranian regime.”
That report said “Jarrett served as the personal and direct emissary of the president to secret meetings with the Iranians, which are understood to have taken place in one of the Gulf principalities.”