US President Barack Obama placed a telephone call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu within hours of the deal’s announcement, but failed to convince the Jewish leader that the supposed breakthrough was a net gain for regional and global security. Reacting to intelligence related to the ongoing negotiations, Netanyahu has insisted for weeks that the emerging agreement will not obstruct Iran’s pathway to a nuclear weapon, but will instead pave it.
More recently, Netanyahu has told reporters that he is not opposed to any agreement at all and that he wishes for the Obama administration to take measures to secure a stronger deal that significantly alleviates the existential threat that Tehran poses to Israel. On Monday, Israeli officials gave some indication of what a stronger deal might look like, as Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz presented a list of changes that should be made to the framework on the assumption that Iran will attempt to cheat on a deal if left to its own devices.
Among these proposed changes are a halt to research and development and a greater reduction in the number of enrichment centrifuges Iran is allowed to keep. Israeli officials also seek to reverse some of the perceived concessions that were given to Iran in response to new demands that were introduced late in the negotiating process, namely the retention of enrichment capabilities at the fortified Fordo facility and the withdrawal of a former agreement to send enriched uranium out of the country.
But the Wall Street Journal indicates that the terms Israel is pushing for are not attainable, as last week’s agreement is now firmly established and Steinitz’s list of changes would be a fundamental overhaul of the agreed-upon points. Assuming Israel is aware of this, its opposition to the framework deal is an expression of, if not opposition to any agreement at all, at least a desire for the United States to return to the diplomatic drawing board.
A somewhat more equivocal response has been given by another traditional US ally in the days since the announcement of the framework agreement. On Monday, Reuters claimed that the Saudi Arabian cabinet had signaled that it welcomed the agreement via an official statement. Specifically, the statement expressed hope that a final agreement will come together that will prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the region.
But Hot Air pointed out that this sort of message is nothing new from Saudi Arabia and does not rise to the level of explicit support for the deal that is currently taking shape. In fact, this article suggested that the more important aspects of the Saudi statement were those that emphasized the need for “good neighborliness and non-interference in the affairs of Arab states” – certainly a reference to Iran’s backing of Shiite militias including the Houthi in Yemen, which the Saudis and their regional allies have been fighting from the skies for nearly two weeks.
Hot Air suggested on Monday that the real meaning of the Saudi statement is that the government believes the emerging nuclear deal may embolden Iran to carry on with its regional interference and thus make it more difficult for the Arabs to beat back the advance of Shiite forces operating at the behest of Tehran.
Of course the delicate language of the Saudi statement implies that the long-standing US ally is still willing to give the Obama administration time to improve the details of a final agreement and to sell the Saudis on the current strategy. But it is no secret that many of the Arab nations in the region feel roughly as threatened by Iran as Israel does. The developing conflict in Yemen indicates their willingness to confront Tehran on their own. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reminds readers that the Saudi’s and others may seek nuclear capabilities of their own if they are not satisfied that Iran’s progress toward a nuclear weapon has been fully contained.
The US Congress has similarly shown some willingness to let the Obama administration do its work, while also being ready to act unilaterally if it is not satisfied with that administration’s outcomes. This benefit of the doubt has particularly been offered by the Democratic Party while Republicans push for a vote on legislation for congressional oversight on the nuclear deal or for new sanctions against Iran in response to cheating or a stalled diplomatic process.
But the efforts to pass the oversight legislation seem to be becoming more and more bipartisan all the time. Even the conclusion of the framework negotiations does not seem to have convinced many members of the president’s part to wait until the conclusion of negotiations before completing their push for a strong congressional role in guaranteeing good results and effective verification.
Politico reported on Monday that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has plans to vote on the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act on or around April 14, with a floor vote expected soon after that. The act’s sponsor, Bob Corker, has explained that he believes this legal oversight will actually strengthen the negotiating process by making it clear that Iran will have to propose or agree to a final deal that will pass muster with the US Congress.
Politico also emphasized that leading Democrats including New York Senator Chuck Schumer had signed onto the bill in recent days, with others signaling that they may support it as well after careful consideration of the content and the developing circumstances.
This is something that the White House, which has promised to veto the review act, is evidently working to forestall with its massive, ongoing campaign to sell the agreement on its merits. But with firm opposition coming from Israel and the Republican Party and deep-seeded skepticism entrenched in the Democratic Party and America’s Arab allies, such a campaign may prove to be an uphill battle.