by James M. Wall
When President Barack Obama named Senator John Kerry as his Secretary of State, he opened the door for a new chair to assume control of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: New Jersey’s Democratic Senator Robert Menendez.
Menendez (at right) replaced Senator Kerry as chairman on February 1, 2013. On March 5, the new chairman spoke to the annual AIPAC policy council in Washington.
His talk concluded with this ringing promise: “You have my hand in friendship and the power of my office. Shalom”
He is keeping that promise. This week, speaking with the “power” of his office, he took a strong position against President Obama’s effort to reach a nuclear agreement with Iran.
When word went out from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the U.S. Congress, that this was the time to stand with Israel, Senator Menendez was ready with his op-ed.
Menendez wrote in USA Today, “We cannot substitute wild-eyed hope for clear-eyed pragmatism given Iran’s record of deception.”
In demeaning Iran’s “so-called charm offensive”, the Senator used a phrase initially voiced by Benjamin Netanyahu.
A so-called Iranian charm offensive is simultaneously matched by an actual offensive to cross the nuclear weapons threshold. It is incompatible for Iran to pursue true diplomacy while installing any new centrifuges, including advanced centrifuge technology, and developing a heavy water reactor in Arak in defiance of the international community, most vocally this weekend by France.
This week on the eve of another round of talks with Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, Britain, China, France, Russia and the US, plus Germany, Senator Menendez chose sides.
His op-ed drew a predictable response, published on the web site of the Iranian news agency, Press TV:
“The US Congress has recently been seeking to approve a bill to increase sanctions against Iran. It has been decided that the negotiations be suspended if the bill gets through the US Congress,” said Mohammad Hassan Asafari who sits on the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee of Majlis.
The Iranian lawmaker made the remarks after a meeting in which Iran’s nuclear negotiating team briefed the parliamentary committee on two rounds of nuclear talks with the [P5 plus one] nations.
The US Senate Banking Committee is mulling over whether to move ahead with a new anti-Iran sanctions bill it had delayed before the latest round of talks between Iran and the group of six world powers which was held in the Swiss city of Geneva on November 7-10.
An Act Blue fund-raising appeal for Menendez emphasized the senator’s devotion to Israel:
Senator Menendez’s work in the Senate parallels the issues of concern of the American Jewish community. Menendez recognizes the political, economic, and strategic significance of the US-Israeli alliance, and has been vocal in his support of the relationship. He is truly a friend to Israel and New Jersey’s Jews.
The senator is now acting on that friendship. He is also standing by his speech to AIPAC. The closing minutes of those remarks are here:
James Traub, a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, responded to Menendez on the Foreign Policy website:
In an op-ed in USA Today, Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, explained why he had defied the administration’s urgent request that Congress hang fire on further sanctions:
“Iran is on the ropes because of its intransigent policies and our collective will…. Tougher sanctions will serve as an incentive for Iran to verifiably dismantle its nuclear weapons program.”
. . . it’s an unarguable fact that sanctions on Iran’s oil sales and financial system, imposed by the European Union as well as Congress, have forced the Iranians to take the nuclear negotiations more seriously than they have in the past, and may even have helped elect the moderate president Hassan Rouhani.
So why is the White House insisting that Menendez and his colleagues on the left and right are provoking “a march to war”? The obvious answer, furnished by Secretary of State John Kerry, among others, is that Iran would view additional sanctions imposed in the middle of the most delicate negotiations as a sign of bad faith.
More to the point, a punitive response by the West would undermine the moderates on Rouhani’s team, and prove to Iranian hard-liners — including the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei — that the United States and its allies are an intransigent adversary intent on humiliating Iran and ultimately overthrowing its Islamic regime.
. . .. The reason why Menendez and others really are marching on a path to war is that they are demanding an outcome which Iran manifestly will not accept: zero enrichment.
As Daryl Kimball, director of the Arms Control Association, puts it, “This is a strategy based upon hope that is not supported by the evidence of Iranian actions over the past decade, its past statements, or common sense.”
On the British web edition of Guardian, Michael Cohen points to “flash points” that have “strained” U.S.-Israel relations:
The most notable flash point between the US and Israel is quite obviously Iran. Since taking office, President Obama has sought a deal to end Iran’s efforts to build a nuclear weapons. While this is clearly in Israel’s interest, it’s the outlines of a possible agreement that is the problem.
The Israeli position of no uranium enrichment, even for peaceful purposes, the removal of all enriched uranium from Iran and the shutting down of all enrichment facilities is a negotiation non-starter – and stands in sharp contrast to the US position. . . Netanyahu appears focused on trying to torpedo any chance of an agreement, altogether. This is a dangerous game that if successful would not only create a fundamental breach between the US and Israel, but would almost certainly increase the likelihood of Iran actually getting a clear nuclear capability.
By choosing Israel’s side in these negotiations, Senator Menendez accepts Israel’s negotiating methodology: Make impossible demands to guarantee that no agreement is possible.
This is the same method Israel uses in the second “flash point” that Michael Cohen identifies in his Guardian column, the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks. Israel has participated for decades in these talks while stealing Palestinian land and tightening its control of the Palestinian population.
The “impossible scenario” is Israel’s modus operandi. Will it work with Iran? Senator Menendez must believe it will.
Act Blue assures us Senator Menendez “is truly a friend to Israel”. Is promoting war with Iran a friendly act? Maybe it is time for Act Blue to tell the Senator that “friends don’t let friends drive drunk”.