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PM aides said worried as Biden’s foreign policy team looking more like Obama’s

While Netanyahu critics Rice and Kerry won’t be dealing with Iran or Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israel reportedly concerned about role of former Iran deal negotiator Sherman

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

US President Barack Obama, accompanied by, from left, Secretary of State John Kerry, Vice President Joe Biden, and National Security Adviser Susan Rice, speaks during a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington on March 31, 2016.  (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)
US President Barack Obama, accompanied by, from left, Secretary of State John Kerry, Vice President Joe Biden, and National Security Adviser Susan Rice, speaks during a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington on March 31, 2016. (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s closest advisers are reportedly concerned about the foreign policy team that US President-elect Joe Biden is putting together as it begins to look more and more like that of former president Barak Obama, who sparred frequently with the Israeli premier over Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

On Tuesday, Politico reported that Wendy Sherman, a chief US negotiator for the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, will be nominated for the role of deputy US secretary of state. She’ll serve under Biden’s nominee for secretary of state, Tony Blinken, who was deputy secretary of state under Obama.

Biden has also tapped former Obama-era secretary of state John Kerry to serve as a special envoy on climate change and Obama’s national security adviser Susan Rice to server as director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. Jake Sullivan, who was also involved in negotiating the Iran deal vehemently opposed by the Netanyahu government, will serve as Biden’s national security adviser.

The growing list of “Obama people” has members of Netanyahu’s National Security Council grumbling, Axios reported Wednesday.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman meet with foreign ministers of Germany, France, China, Britain, Russia and the European Union at a hotel in Vienna, Austria on July 7, 2015. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / CARLOS BARRIA)

Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer has told interlocutors in Washington that he’s less worried about Kerry and Rice, as they aren’t slated to be involved in forming Middle East policy, according to Axios.

He’s also not as concerned about Blinken and Sullivan, who are seen as having strong pro-Israel credentials, despite having served in the Obama administration. Dermer’s greater concern is Sherman as she is set to assume a role that will likely include a great deal of involvement in crafting policy toward Iran, the report said.

Dermer declined to comment for this story, as did Netanyahu’s office, Axios said.

Dermer and Netanyahu have both repeatedly called Biden’s plan to re-enter the nuclear agreement abandoned by US President Donald Trump a mistake.

Biden and his staff have said he will only re-enter the accord if Iran returns to compliance with it and that he hopes to negotiate a follow-up agreement that will address Iran’s ballistic missile program as well as its regional hegemony.

Tehran, which announced earlier this week that it has ramped up its uranium enrichment to 20% in violation of the deal, has asserted that it will not negotiate a subsequent agreement.

Netanyahu sparred with the Obama administration regularly over the latter’s determination to pursue a diplomatic solution to Iran’s nuclear pursuit as well as a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based roughly on the pre-1967 borders.

Violent protesters, loyal to US President Donald Trump, storm the Capitol, January 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Netanyahu enjoyed a near complete transformation of those policies when Donald Trump entered the White House in 2017. The Republican president would go on to withdraw from the Iran deal and propose a peace plan that envisions Israel annexing all of its West Bank settlements.

But the premier may be forced to distance himself from Trump against the backdrop of the attempt by the president’s supporters to stampede the Capitol to prevent the certification of his election loss.

Netanyahu condemned the attack on the Capitol as “disgraceful,” but only made mention of Trump in praising him as a “peacemaker” for his administration’s negotiating of the Abraham Accords.

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