Israel and Saudi Arabia are mounting a riposte to persuade the United States not to be lured by Iran’s recently launched “charm offensive,” or abandon the armed opposition battling the government of President Bashar Al-Assad in Syria.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu engaged the U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry on Wednesday for a marathon seven hour discussion at the residence of the American ambassador in Rome.
Expectedly, Iran was the focal point of the talks. The Israeli Prime Minister, who has cited the emergence of a nuclear Iran as an existential threat to his country, exhorted Mr. Kerry not to soften the terms of engagement with Tehran. Not habituated to mincing words, Mr. Netanyahu stated bluntly that Iran must not be allowed to carry out any nuclear enrichment—apparently out of apprehension that such a step would allow Tehran to develop fissile material for an atomic warhead. “Iran must not have a nuclear weapons capability, which means that they shouldn’t have centrifuges or enrichment,” asserted Mr. Netanyahu.
The Israeli Premier also stressed that Iran must ship out its existing stockpiles of enriched material, shut down its underground nuclear facilities, and shutter the facility that develops heavy water for a plutonium reactor. Once Iran complied with these conditions, which would rule out the development of an atomic bomb, it could harness nuclear power under international supervision.
The Israelis fear that talks in Geneva, earlier this month, between Iran and the six global powers could end up curbing, but not eliminating Tehran’s enrichment programme. In return, Iran could be rewarded with the lifting of financial sanctions. Backing Iran, the Russians have been arguing with the other global powers that Tehran should be allowed to carry out enrichment under supervision; as such a step would comply with the norms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), of which Iran has been a member.
Responding to his interlocutor’s shrill oration, Mr. Kerry said that the U.S. would ensure that Iran translates its commitments into action. “We have made clear and we are adamant that words are no substitute for actions, said Mr. Kerry. He added: “We will need to know that actions are being taken which make it crystal clear, undeniably clear, and fail-safe to the world, that whatever programme is pursued is indeed a peaceful programme.”
Yet, the top U.S. diplomat made it clear that a fool-proof nuclear deal with Iran would be in the interest of all countries, including Israel. He stressed that “if this can be solved satisfactorily, diplomatically, it is clearly better for everyone. And we are looking for an opportunity to be able to do that.”
Unlike Israel, which has sought a pervasive dialogue, the wealthy Saudi royals have responded angrily—some say petulantly—to Washington’s outreach towards Tehran, evident first in the ice-breaking telephonic conversation between President Barack Obama and his counterpart Hassan Rouhani, and then in the Geneva talks that followed with the six global powers. Piqued with the Americans over their policy shift towards Iran and then Syria, where the U.S. struck a deal with the Russians, instead of launching military strikes, the Saudis have threatened a fundamental realignment of their ties with Washington.
Reuters is reporting that Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi intelligence chief, told European diplomats that the Kingdom will adopt a “major shift” in its relations with the United States.
“The shift away from the U.S. is a major one,” Reuters quoted a source close to Saudi policy as saying.
Aware of Riyadh’s predicament, Mr. Kerry met Saudi Foreign Minister, Saud al-Faisal in Paris on Monday. Mr. Kerry announced optimistically after talks that their troubles had blown away, and the U.S. and Saudi Arabia were once again on the “same page” on holding a proposed international conference in Geneva on Syria. Rhetoric apart, observers say that it is unlikely that the deepening divide between Riyadh and Washington, in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, can be so easily bridged.