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Focus Instead on Sanctions
With the swap deal scuttled, a perturbed Lula da Silva released the text of Obama's encouraging letter, but Obama still acquiesced to Clinton's demands for tougher economic sanctions against Iran. On May 18, 2010, Official Washington -- and especially the neocons -- had something to cheer about.
"We have reached agreement on a strong draft [sanctions resolution] with the cooperation of both Russia and China," Secretary Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, making clear that she viewed the timing of the sanctions as a riposte to the Iran-Brazil-Turkey agreement. "This announcement is as convincing an answer to the efforts undertaken in Tehran over the last few days as any we could provide," she declared.
In the ensuing months, the propaganda drumbeat against Iran grew steadily louder, with dubious allegations about Iran plotting an assassination of the Saudi ambassador in Washington and the IAEA, under new pro-U.S.-Israeli leadership, issuing an alarmist report about Iran's purported nuclear progress.
Congress also enacted even more draconian sanctions aimed at crippling Iran's banking system and preventing it from selling oil, Iran's principal source of income. Obama arranged to have waivers inserted in the sanctions legislation, meaning he can hold off imposing penalties if he feels that's needed to protect the U.S. economy or national security.
Obama also appears to have re-engaged in efforts to seek a peaceful solution to the Iranian nuclear issue.
Gen. Dempsey's Arrival
So, that's the backdrop for Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey's talks in Israel with his counterpart, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, and other senior officials, beginning Thursday evening.
Given the preparatory work and Haaretz's report that Israeli intelligence agrees that Iran has yet to decide about building a nuclear bomb, Israel may not challenge Dempsey's expected efforts to tamp down tensions.
The Haaretz article states:
"The intelligence assessment Israeli officials will present later this week to Dempsey indicates that Iran has not yet decided whether to make a nuclear bomb. The Israeli view is that while Iran continues to improve its nuclear capabilities, it has not yet decided whether to translate these capabilities into a nuclear weapon -- or, more specifically, a nuclear warhead mounted atop a missile. Nor is it clear when Iran might make such a decision."
But Dempsey's visit bears close watching to see if the alteration in Israeli rhetoric is durable and reflected on the ground. In the past, Israel's Likud leaders have played hardball with American leaders, often by enlisting the help of their influential allies in the United States. If "regime change" remains the real priority, then Israeli leaders won't be likely to warm to the idea of negotiating over Iran's nuclear program.