Russian invasion of Ukraine risks imploding White House diplomatic efforts toward Iran, Syria

  • Russian invasion of Ukraine risks imploding White House diplomatic efforts toward Iran, Syria
  • Bipartisan letters from Senate and House seen as reasserting Congressional role in Iran negotiations
  • Pew: strong bipartisan support for Israel on eve of Obama-Netanyahu meeting
  • Iran moves to lock in investors, as worries reemerge over anti-sanctions lobbies

 

    •          The White House's reaction to Russia's invasion of Ukraine is being read by Middle East hands against the backdrop of the ongoing crises in Syria and Iran, with both the Obama administration's credibility and its ability to substantively address those issues both at stake. The administration had very publicly and very explicitly embraced Russia as arguably the key player that would bring Syria's Bashar al-Assad regime to the table and help secure a negotiated solution to international concerns over Iran's nuclear program. The Jerusalem Post on Monday conveyed analysis worrying that tensions between Washington and Moscow would complicate efforts to resolve both of those dynamics. The Washington Post for its part blasted President Barack Obama for having over the past half-decade "led a foreign policy based more on how he thinks the world should operate than on reality." The outlet criticized the administration for among other things continuing to indulge in rhetoric and policies premised on the efficacy of 21st century international norms, even as "Assad is waging a very 20th-century war against his own people, sending helicopters to drop exploding barrels full of screws, nails and other shrapnel onto apartment buildings where families cower in basements." The Post also noted that "the White House often responds by accusing critics of being warmongers" - an accusation that the administration has repeatedly leveled against lawmakers and analysts who favor measures signaling to Iran that future sanctions will be passed the absence of substantive Iranian concessions - and dismissed the charge.

 

    • Bipartisan House and Senate letters sent to President Barack Obama in recent days are being read as a reassertion of Congressional prerogatives in the context of negotiations with Iran, after weeks in which the White House was widely perceived to have largely marginalized skeptics on the Hill via among other things a broadly criticized and publicly disavowed campaign branding advocates of financial pressure on Tehran as warmongers. Politico reported on Sunday that six Senators - Democrats Chuck Schumer (NY), Robert Menendez (NJ), and Chris Coons (DE) and Republicans Mark Kirk (IL), Lindsey Graham (SC), and Kelly Ayotte (NH) - had sent the President a letter insisting that Congress ‘have an outsize role to play in Iran no matter the result of ongoing nuclear talks,’ specifically quoting the Senators as emphasizing that the Hill will need to "rapidly and dramatically expand sanctions" should Iran refuse to put its nuclear program beyond use for weaponization. On Monday the Washington Free Beacon conveyed the details of a different letter sent by top members of the House of Representatives - Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Steny Hoyer (D-MD) - outlining the contours of an acceptable deal. The letter specifically emphasized the necessity of concessions on "Iran’s nuclear weapons-related infrastructure, including enrichment-, heavy water-, and reprocessing-related facilities," all elements that top Iranian figures have in recent days signaled will be red lines as comprehensive negotiations are set to pick up pace. A recent poll conducted for The Israel Project by The Mellman Group found that lopsided majorities of Americans disapprove of the Obama administration's current approach toward negotiating with Iran (66%-30%), want Congress to vet the results of comprehensive negotiations (69%-25%), and want pressure kept up on Iran in the meantime.

 

    • The Pew Research Center on Monday evaluated recent polling on American sentiments regarding the peace process in general, and administration efforts to pursue a U.S.-backed framework agreement between the parties in particular, as President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met in the Oval Office to discuss issues ranging from the Arab-Israeli conflict to the Iranian nuclear program. Pew noted that despite public signals that Obama "intends to press [Netanyahu] to help move Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations to a 'conclusive round,'" Americans were divided on the degree to which the administration should be focusing on the dispute. It also noted that "U.S. support for Israel remains high, and… cuts across partisan and religious lines," and that "just 12% sympathize with the Palestinians." An interview given by the President to Bloomberg on the eve of the talks - described by veteran Israeli journalist David Horovitz as "a bombshell battering" of the Prime Minister - saw Obama placing substantial blame on Netanyahu for uneven progress in current Israeli-Palestinian talks. Horovitz noted that the interview, which also saw Obama sketching out scenarios for Israel's diplomatic isolation, was a move that "might be considered bad manners, poor diplomatic protocol, a resounding preemptive slap in the face," and more substantively that it was "just about the last thing likely to bolster the prime minister’s confidence in their alliance, and just about the last thing likely to encourage Netanyahu to further alienate his hawkish home base by taking steps such as halting building outside the settlement blocs." The Oval Office meeting itself reportedly went smoothly, with the President acknowledging strong bipartisan support in the U.S. for Israel and praising Netanyahu for vigorously pursuing a two-state solution. Israeli outlet Yediot Aharonot describing the session quoted an Israeli official noting that the Bloomberg interview had "heightened tensions" between the two leaders.

 

    •          Iran is making moves to bring Western investors into the country's energy sector, with Iranian media reportedly detailing efforts by the Iranian Oil Ministry to hold a conference next July that will include "experts from Europe and the United States." The goal of the event will be, per Morteza Behrouzi, the secretary-general for the conference, to "introduc[e] the investment attractions in the country's oil and energy industries." Meanwhile other Iranian media outlets reported on statements from Mehdi Karbasian, Iran's Deputy Minister of Industries, welcoming Italian investments in the domestic mining projects. The moves are likely to be read in Washington against the backdrop of debates over Congressional legislation which would promote future sanctions against Iran should it fail to put its nuclear program beyond use for weaponization. The White House has insisted that such measures should be put off in the near term, because sanctions can be passed quickly should they become necessary. Skeptics have countered that new investment opportunities will generate new economic interests - and more specifically, new political lobbies - dedicated to preventing the imposition of sanctions. Mikhail Margelov, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in Russia’s Duma parliament, declared on Monday that Moscow evaluates that conditions have now been met to justify the full lifting of sanctions on Iran."


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