Iranian foreign ministry spokesperson Marziyeh Afkham described the Wall Street Journal report as “an unprofessional media game,” implying that it depicted a level of cooperation between Tehran and Washington that the Iranian regime publicly opposes. Conversely, Washington embraced the report, which quoted one unnamed former administration official as saying that Khamenei’s alleged contact could be a sign of a breakthrough in American-Iranian relations.
Both of these responses come in spite of the fact that the supposedly Khamenei-authored correspondence was reported to detail a series of perceived abuses by the US against Iran both before and after its Islamic Revolution. Such content can easily be seen as undermining the Obama administration’s narrative about emerging diplomatic cooperation, while also making Tehran’s rejection of that narrative somewhat redundant.
The Iranian regime’s negative response to Obama’s outreach and its public unwillingness to reciprocate that outreach reflect its reported intransigence in nuclear negotiations with the US and five other world powers. From the beginning of those discussions more than a year ago, Khamenei has maintained that any compromise over the fundamental issue of Iran’s stockpile of nuclear enrichment centrifuges was a red line for Iran’s negotiators.
Whereas the West originally demanded that all such centrifuges be removed from the country, the Obama administration adopted a position of allowing 2,000 early in negotiations, before stepping the allowance up to 4,500 and very recently to somewhere in the range of 6,000.
The gaps between Washington and Tehran on this and other issues, as well as their contrary approaches to direct communication have fueled criticisms from American legislators, Israeli officials, and others who believe that the Obama administration is disregarding Tehran’s actual stance and operating on the faulty assumption that the Islamic Republic is a rational actor that is prepared to compromise despite its persistent anti-American bluster.
Such criticism was recently expressed by Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, current Fox News contributor, and possible Republican contender for the 2016 presidential elections. Huckabee told the Christian Broadcasting Network that the Iranian regime “is not a regime that can be made nice with.” He described that regime as being like a rattlesnake that cannot be tamed, and compared the Obama administration’s policies to attempts to reason with, pet, feed, and accommodate a rattlesnake that is about to strike.
“You realize that if the rattlesnake gets his way he’s going to bite you,” Huckabee added, invoking familiar accusations that the Obama administration is effectively giving away American leverage and allowing Iran to have its way in nuclear talks. “He’ll bite you, because that’s his nature and nothing’s going to change his nature.”
The details behind some of these accusations were conveyed by The Tower on Monday when it quoted several expert opinions as saying that the continued rise in the number of centrifuges Iran will be permitted to keep indicates that Iran will have a much shorter breakout time for a nuclear weapon than Western powers including the United States had previously deemed necessary.
For instance, nonproliferation expert Robert Einhorn estimates that if Iran is permitted to keep 6,000 centrifuges, as the latest US proposal seems to allow, Iran could enrich enough uranium for a nuclear weapon within six months. Others have reported that with only 4,000 centrifuges Iran might be capable of enriching the requisite amount of uranium in as little as three months. Former Israeli ambassador to the UN Dr. Dore Gold adds that Iran’s plans to add more advanced centrifuges to its stockpile could reduce its breakout time even further.
This expert input is used in some circles to counter poll numbers used by the Obama administration and its supporters to suggest that there is popular support for a soft approach to dealing with Iran, even among Israelis, who stand to suffer the most direct consequences for Iran’s potential acquisition of nuclear weapons. For instance, Arutz Sheva noted on Monday that a recent such poll by the Jewish lobbying group J Street was flawed in terms of both methodology and context.
On one hand, the poll question that reportedly demonstrated 84 percent support among American Jews for the Obama administration’s approach actually presented what Arutz Sheva described as “an imaginary scenario that J Street concocted.” Specifically, it asked respondents whether they would support a deal that involved full-time inspections of Iran guaranteeing that the nation’s uranium enrichment was solely for civilian purposes. This is certainly not the type of deal that the Obama administration’s critics see in the making.
On the other hand, the poll established that only 16 percent of respondents had gotten a “great deal of information” about the “first step agreement with Iran,” while 48 percent had heard “some information.” What’s more, virtually none of the respondents said that the Iran nuclear issue was one of the top two issues of importance to them – a fact that indicates to Arutz Sheva that the people cited by the poll may not generally be following the issue closely, and in any event do not possess the expert opinion that has been used to outline the danger of a soft deal in policy circles.
Within Israeli policy circles, there is certainly widespread agreement about that danger, and Israeli officials have issued statements to this effect on a near daily basis. Most recently, according to the Jerusalem Post, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon warned of Iran’s “apocalyptic, messianic ambition,” which makes it an untrustworthy negotiating partner and a perennial enemy to both Israel and the United States.
Ya’alon specifically advocated for no nuclear deal with Iran, believing that the only alternative at this point is a bad deal that allows it to remain a threshold nuclear state and to further pursue its regional expansion in absence of Western economic pressure. Israeli officials are of course averse to any uncertainty regarding constraints on Iran’s arsenal, because Iranian officials have repeatedly called for the outright destruction of the Jewish state.
Governor Huckabee made reference to this same existential threat, arguing that “whatever happens to Israel is the warmup act” for what the Islamic Republic of Iran intends to do to the United States as well. “I mean the Iranians are the ones that said Israel is the little Satan, America is the big Satan,” Huckabee explained. “How do we not see that? How do we not understand that the ultimate target is not Israel?”