Iran nuclear: Obama faces sceptics in Congress

President Barack Obama talks to UK Prime Minister David Cameron (21 Nov)

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The White House read-out of the half-hour call President Obama made from Air Force One to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is pretty bland. You have to imagine the exasperated silences, the raised voices, the emphasis yourself.

I don't know, of course. Maybe it was perfectly amiable. But there is a cadence to the text that suggests otherwise. "President Obama called... The two leaders reaffirmed... The President noted... The President told..." and "The President underscored that the United States will remain firm in our commitment to Israel, which has good reason to be sceptical about Iran's intentions."

Israel is, according to reports, cross that it was kept in the dark about the secret talks between the US and Iran. There is no doubt this deal makes history. It is the first agreement between the US and Iran since the Iranian revolution and the hostage crisis of 1979-80. That alone is enough to alarm some at home and abroad.

The deal itself is modest enough. It in effect freezes Iran's nuclear programme, in return for the lifting of a handful of sanctions, making it easier for Iran to sell cars, oil, petrochemicals and gold.

Congress is very sceptical about the deal. Many are suggesting that they should push for fresh sanctions even though the White House has claimed this could shatter the agreement.

Obama will probably get some breathing space, and any new sanctions might not kick in for six months. He could also veto anything Congress passed. But menacing squawks from a hawkish Congress could encourage Iranian hardliners to dig their claws in too.

Some have vociferously protested Iran gets more out of it than the West. This is probably correct, and those who say this is largely a confidence-building measure are almost certainly right.

But it is the next step that worries people.

The constant critics who see Obama as weakness personified trot out "Munich" and "deal with Hitler". Some point out that what can be frozen can be thawed - in other words, it is pretty easy for Iran simply to re-start its programme once the sanctions have disappeared.

The Saudis are unhappy that Iran's influence may grow. Perhaps they would rather have that country as a dangerous pariah than see it accepted as a legitimate player in the region.

Others are concerned it is part of a wider trend of US disengagement from the Middle East.

If Iran does give up on the weapons programme it says doesn't exist, Israel might find itself under greater polemical, if not actual political, pressure to give up its own undeclared nukes.

This may be a historic deal; it is what sort of history it leads to that is really important.

Mark Mardell Article written by Mark Mardell Mark Mardell North America editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Mark, make no mistake about it, this is historic alright. Traditionally, the relationship between Israel & the US has been similar to that of organ-grinder to monkey. In this instance, the monkey (the US) is more like a 400 pound gorilla.

    BO taking on AIPAC will send thunder shocks thru world politics. If he wins here, it's all up for grabs & I'm guessing the Israelis are very, very concerned.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    "The constant critics who see Obama as weakness personified...."

    Actually, for once, I would have thought it was the exact opposite. Obama is taking on the most powerful lobby group there is in AIPAC. He must known he's going to be subjected to intense criticism & lobbying. The easy, safe option would be to maintain the status quo.

    No, this is a courageous decision so kudos to Obama & his team.

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    117 Lucy

    "if Iran wanted to attack USA"

    Mark Twain's dictum — 'God created war so that Americans would learn geography' still holds true today

    Iran attack America? What with and how would it reach your shores? It's a bit like claiming the Gulf war was in the Gulf of Mexico

    Last time you claimed China was your mortal enemy. What about Switzerland, Liechtenstein or Montenegro?

  • rate this

    Comment number 212.

    The Israelis take every chance to gather support in the US if not by out right intimidation of American politicians through AIPAC then it's by courting the religious loonies and their belief in hallucinatory Bible prophesy and how the Jews will inherit the earth and the End Times and all that rubbish. The Israelis laugh at these deluded yokels but they are usefull idiots to the Israeli agenda.

  • rate this

    Comment number 208.

    Netanyahu is sending his gang of thugs to the US to beatup on Obama. I think Obama is really disgusted with Netanyahu and his two faced actions vis a vis the Palestinians and Israel's unlimited settlement construction on land taken from Palestinians that even Obama has called illegal. But Netanyahu wants to show Obama that he's the boss of the Middle-east and counts on AIPAC to terrifiy Congress.


Comments 5 of 304



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