Obama: Netanyahu's Call for State Recognition Won't Be Part of Iran Deal

Obama: Netanyahu's Call for State Recognition Won't Be Part of Iran Deal
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President Obama Monday dismissed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s insistence that Iran recognize the state of Israel as a condition of a nuclear arms control pact, arguing Iran’s regime will not change that drastically, even if Tehran’s nuclear activities do.

The president’s remarks to National Public Radio, during an interview to air in its entirety Tuesday, offered another look at the simultaneous global and domestic pressures the United States is juggling just days after clearing interim hurdles in pursuit of a lasting agreement with Iran.

The Iranian threats to Israel are likely to remain, Obama said. The United States is committed to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon via tough commitments, intrusive inspections and scientific oversight. By the same token, the United States remains committed to defending Israel, he added.

“The notion that we would condition … a verifiable deal on Iran recognizing Israel is really akin to saying that we won't sign a deal unless the nature of the Iranian regime completely transforms. And that is, I think, a fundamental misjudgment,” the president told NPR’s Steve Inskeep.

 “We want Iran not to have nuclear weapons precisely because we can't bank on the nature of the regime changing. That's exactly why we don't want to have nuclear weapons. If suddenly Iran transformed itself to Germany or Sweden or France, then there would be a different set of conversations about their nuclear infrastructure,” he added.

Since April 2, Obama has been making his case for sufficient running room, bolstered by negotiators from the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, and Germany, to see if last week’s preliminary breakthrough with Tehran can gel into a signed, verifiable agreement to constrain Iran for more than a decade, at least.

In phone calls and media interviews, speaking to powers in the Middle East and to skeptics in Congress, Obama has championed what he describes as a history-making opportunity, asking critics for patience and allies for their support.

During Obama’s presidency, no initiative conceived by the administration has prompted quite the same energetic deployment of private outreach mixed with determined public messaging from the White House to world capitals and to congressional offices.

For example, the president phoned Sultan Qaboos al Said of Oman on Monday to explain the framework agreement and invite Oman to participate in a spring summit at Camp David with other Middle Eastern stakeholders, the White House said in a statement.

Complicating the multiple reassurances is the fact that Iran’s commitments and each side’s interpretation of “phased” relief from crippling sanctions as the reward for Iran’s better behavior remain at odds. United Nations sanctions, congressional sanctions, and U.S. executive branch sanctions impact Iran.

The president’s spokesman continued to urge lawmakers of both parties Monday to resist legislating any changes that might alter the landscape of restrictions imposed on Tehran, even after a deal might be signed and implemented.

The White House arguments blended honey and heft: Congress has “a role” to play; lawmakers are being consulted; Congress should not play politics to try to “kill” a deal; Obama has the executive muscle to negotiate and implement an arms control agreement without the legislative branch; and he can waive some existing restrictions on Iran by law on his own say-so.

When would the president lift some sanctions on Tehran, and under what circumstances? An answer to that question remained elusive.

“I’m not going to get ahead of where this ends up,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said. “We are going to have a phase-in of sanctions relief, and that is something that is an important principle.”

Specifically, the White House seeks to discourage Senate Democrats from blessing a bipartisan bill that is expected to move through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee April 14.  

The Senate measure would require Obama to consult Congress with any text of an agreement, after which Congress would have 60 days to review it, during which the president could not waive sanctions. That period would be followed by a resolution in Congress to approve or disapprove a deal with Iran.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Monday threw his weight behind the bill, sponsored by Tennessee Republican Bob Corker and New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez, and he linked Iran’s nuclear ambitions to the regime’s status since 1984 as supporter of terrorism.

“The administration needs to explain to the Congress and the American people why an interim agreement should result in reduced pressure on the world's leading state sponsor of terror,” McConnell said in a statement. “The Senate will review these parameters more thoroughly, and respond legislatively with the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015,” he added.

Lawmakers are in recess until next week. The White House, State Department officials, and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, one of the key negotiators across the table from the Iranians in Switzerland over six weeks, remain busy translating what they believe the deal entails, in contrast with what the Iranians maintain they achieved as concessions from the so-called P5+1 countries.

“The key elements are all decided,” Moniz said during the daily press briefing at the White House.  “There’s no doubt that right now there’s a different narrative, but not in conflict with what’s written down, just selective … We got numbers, and those have got to go into the agreement [by June 30]; very specific and comprehensive.” 

In arguing that some Republicans want to undermine any nuclear deal, the White House said some Senate conservatives are motivated by domestic politics more than policy. But in remarks over the weekend and again Monday, the president and his spokesman heaped praise on Corker, the committee chairman who insists Congress should act now to keep constant pressure on Iran to force a halt to its nuclear activities.

“There are members of Congress that are pursuing a discussion of these topics in a principled fashion, like Senator Corker,” Earnest said. “And the president is interested in engaging with them to talk through these issues.”


Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com.  Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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