The first round of nuclear talks with Iran exposes President Barack Obama’s difficult election-year position (TIME). He faces dealing with an obstinate Iran, an accusatory Israel, voters who do not want to see more U.S. military action, and heavy criticism from Republicans in Congress and likely general election opponent Mitt Romney.
Obama said he has not “given anything away” (AP) in diplomatic negotiations with Iran said after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday accused the United States and world powers gave Tehran a “freebie” by agreeing to hold more talks next month.
“The notion that somehow we’ve given something away or a ‘freebie’ would indicate Iran has gotten something. In fact, they’ve got some of the toughest sanctions that they’re going to be facing coming up in just a few months if they don’t take advantage of these talks,” Obama fired back.
The so-called P5+1 — the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany — hope the talks spur Iran to take actions to reassure the world that it is not seeking nuclear weapons under the guise of what it insists is a civilian atomic energy program.
The United States and Israel must resolve their distrust and present a united front on Iran, writes Chemi Shalev in Haaretz. He notes that on the one hand in Israel there is “the widely held suspicion that [President Obama’s] overriding goal is to achieve an arrangement that would avert a crisis and keep oil prices low in advance of the November elections all make for a toxic mix that could very well induce increasingly scathing outbursts from Jerusalem.”
On the other hand, Shalev says, given Netanyahu’s ties to Romney and other Republicans, the White House “will be hard pressed not to suspect Netanyahu that his vocal objections to any hint of progress is aimed at giving crucial aid and succor to his conservative ideological allies in their bid to unseat Obama.”
“The stakes couldn’t be higher,” Shalev writes. “If the current talks collapse, the stage will be set, theoretically at least, for an Israeli attack that could ignite the Middle East, rattle the world’s economy and possibly derail Obama’s chances of [an election] victory.”
Abu-Dhabi’s The National says in an editorial that U.S. politics alone could derail the talks. “At the moment, Mr. Obama appears to prefer loud politics. Tehran’s own squabbling politicians, boxed in from the start, are going to see few reasons to acquiesce to unilateral demands. More threats push the region towards the possibility of a war that no one (with any sense) wants to see,” the editorial says.
For more on the candidates’ stances, check out CFR’s Issue Trackers on The Candidates and U.S.-Iran Policy and The Candidates on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.
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CFR’s Ray Takeyh says the White House’s current approach of sanctions and diplomatic patience seems to be working and Tehran may have come to an understanding that their harsh tone with the rest of the world has not been serving them well and are now receptive to negotiations.
TIME‘s Tony Karon says there is still time for the United States to hit the “snooze button” on confrontation Iran. Indeed, he says one major indicator of the prospects for diplomacy with Iran in the coming weeks will be “found in the quotidian indicators housed in the business section: Keep an eye on oil prices, which tend to serve as the coal miner’s canary when it comes to tension with Iran.”
— Gayle S. Putrich, Contributing Editor