The «Normandy Four» talks in Minsk were not painted by US media as the main event to attract public attention in the United States last week. The letter of Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khomeini sent to Obama stole the show. The Wall Street Journal’s article went around the globe. (1) According to the outlet, it was a reply to the message President Obama sent to the Iranian leader in October 2014.
Iran has denied the Wall Street Journal‘s report that supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has recently responded to a letter sent in October by U.S. President Barack Obama suggesting cooperation with Iran in fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. «There has been no new letter from Iran's side», Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said, according to a report carried late on February 15 by the official IRNA news agency. «The claim made by the Wall Street Journal is an unprofessional media game». Tehran does not deny the very fact of being in contact with the US President, it’s not an eye opener, no matter the both countries have had no formal diplomatic ties since 1980. US presidents have received letters from Iran but they have never been signed by spiritual leaders. A direct contact would have become an unprecedented deviation from Iran’s diplomatic practice as only the President of the country is authorized to represent it in the international arena.
No doubt, the Wall Street Journal is aware of it but the article states the letter was signed by nobody else but the spiritual latter of Iran. Here one can see the evident attempt by Americans to create an impression that Tehran cedes its position under the Washington’s pressure and is ready to become more pliant on the nuclear issue.
The group of international mediators including the United States, Russia, China, Great Britain, France and Germany hopes to end the talks in June this year. The negotiation process has been extended twice. There will be no prolongations anymore. The political part of the agreement was to be agreed till March 24. A little more than a month is left till the date. There are doubts the plans will be fulfilled. Washington continues the attempts to drive Tehran to the wall, but Iranians stand firm. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said at the February 2015 Munich Security Conference «Either we lose together or we win together.» (2)
The parties have their own criteria to define what they see as a victory. Iran wants the sanctions lifted and international isolation ended while the United States pursues the goal of toppling the Islamic regime. Tehran makes concessions only with regard to the nuclear program. The White House wants to expand the agenda. The obstacles standing in the way of overwhelming agreement are no longer technical. The issue of nuclear program pales in comparison with other problems the US wants to solve and it all goes far beyond the competence of the «Big Six». Washington wants Iran to curtail its missile programs, stop supporting Syria and Hezbollah, observe human rights in accordance with American standards etc.
Even the Obama administration understands the absurdity of such policy. Now Obama has to overcome the opposition in the both houses of Congress prone more to support Israel, which refuses the idea of reaching any agreements with Iran, than the policy of US President aimed at achieving a diplomatic compromise with Tehran. The administration is angry with House Speaker John Boehner for inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak in front of the Congress on March 3 while keeping the White House out of the loop. As Boehner put it, «I frankly didn’t want them getting in the way and quashing what I thought was a real opportunity,» Boehner said on Fox News on February 15. (3)
It’s an open secret Obama and Israeli Prime Minister have strained relations, but it’s not the main thing. Obviously Netanyahu will talk about the danger of reaching an agreement with Iran on nuclear program to prevent its conclusion. «I am going to the United States not because I seek a confrontation with the President, but because I must fulfill my obligation to speak up on a matter that affects the very survival of my country,» he said. (4)
The smouldering conflict between the US and Israeli governments has come out in the open. Talking about the US-Israel relations, Barack Obama has done something nobody has done before him. In a sign of the rift that has opened between the White House and Mr. Netanyahu, US officials have stopped briefing his government about the Iran talks. US chief negotiator with Iran and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman said she no longer briefs Israel on the course of the negotiations because the information has been used for internal targets in Israel. The move is widely seen as revenge for Netanyahu’s planned speech to Congress next month, which has raised the ire of the Obama administration. No matter the administration’s reaction Israeli leader repeats almost daily that he still has not refused the plans to address the both houses of Congress as planned. If he keeps his word the world will see another row to affect the US-Israeli relations. Obama will not meet Netanyahu in Washington. This is an openly unfriendly gesture as Israeli leaders have always been met by President on their visits to the United States before. Besides, Obama decided not to support Netanyahu at the next parliamentary election in Israel scheduled on March 17, 2015. Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, reiterated on Tuesday that Mr. Obama would not meet with Mr. Netanyahu during his visit to Washington because he «does not want to be in a position of even appearing to interfere with the outcome of an Israeli election.» (5) Obama has already said the White House does not share the point of view that Netanyahu has no alternative to vie for the premiership of Israel. It’s hard to say if the visit to the United States, that runs counter to established rules of protocol and scheduled just two weeks before the elections, will help Netanyahu or not. Until now he has been leading in the pre-election campaign.
According to Israeli Haaretz, «Even if Israelis are tired of Netanyahu, there is no one who can compete with his national security credentials.» (6) According to the poll, published by the Haaretz daily in early December last year, Netanyahu’s approval rating has dropped to 38 percent, down from 50% in late August as a military campaign against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza came to a close, and dramatically down from 77% on August 5, in the midst of the 50-day war. (7)
The slogan «anyone but Netanyahu» seemed to work the last time Netanyahu lost in 1999; it may be due for a comeback. Looks like Obama thinks so too. Netanyahu has devoted his life to the fight against Iran. The White House has no hope he will ever support any accord on the Iranian nuclear program.
Israeli Prime Minister has his own vision of things. He has decided to simply get around Obama as an obstacle on the way which hinders, but does not prevent, the further confrontation with Iran. Netanyahu said without looking back at the position of the US president «Therefore I am determined to travel to Washington and to present Israel’s position before the members of Congress and the American people.» (8)
The US Congress wants the anti-Iran sanctions toughened. A presidential veto will not save the nuclear talks with Tehran. The Iranian response is already known. «I want to say that first of all, I consent to an agreement that is workable,» Ayatollah Khamenei told Iranian air force commanders in a speech Feb. 8. «Of course, I do not mean a bad agreement.» In case of Iran it means the closure of nuclear dossier and lifting of sanctions.
No doubt Obama is aware of the Iran’s stance on the issue. With all arguments exhausted while trying to convince Congress in the wisdom of reaching a compromise with Iran, Obama has started to cite Ayatollah Khomenei. He remembered him saying that the desire to go nuclear contradicts the Islamic ideology of Iran. «If in fact what they claim is true, which is they have no aspiration to get a nuclear weapon, that in fact, according to their Supreme Leader, it would be contrary to their faith to obtain a nuclear weapon,» Obama said. «If that is true, there should be the possibility of getting a deal». (9) Now about US media. Isn’t it too late to ask who will be the fall guy for failure of the talks with Iran, the President or the Congress? Netanyahu cannot be blamed as formally he exerts no influence on US politics.