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Only Nixon can go to China

Western powers have long suspected that Iran has been using its nuclear energy program as a cover to produce nuclear…

By Erin Empey , in Radioactive Blasphemy , on February 3, 2009 Tags: , , ,

Western powers have long suspected that Iran has been using its nuclear energy program as a cover to produce nuclear weapons.  Inspectors have not yet been convinced that Iran is not building weapons, and many believe that Iran is deliberately being evasive to buy production time.

Obama’s stated plan for Iran is to engage in tough diplomacy, meeting Iranian leaders without preconditions and employing economic carrots and sticks to bring about nuclear transparency.

Not part of Obama’s plan, and surprising given Obama’s stated penchant for moderation and uniting adversaries, is seriously re-evaluating the US’s relationship with Israel.  According to Obama’s campaign website:

Barack Obama and Joe Biden strongly support the US-Israel relationship, believe that our first and incontrovertible commitment in the Middle East must be to the security of Israel, America’s strongest ally in the Middle East. They support this closeness, stating that that the United States would never distance itself from Israel.

The site further elaborated on Obama-Biden’s unyielding support of Israel in a fact sheet which promises $30 billion in aid over the next decade.

Obama does not address the double standard of Israel’s flagrant US supported violations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.  Former US President Jimmy Carter claims that Israel has at least 150 nuclear weapons in its arsenal.  This is unverifiable, as the US will not officially acknowledge Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons, let alone allow the International Atomic Energy Association to inspect Israeli facilities.

It is hard to know if an offer of entry into the World Trade Organization could influence Iran to overlook the disparity of the US supporting its well armed adversary.  So far the evidence suggests no; just days ago Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad insisted that ending US support for Israel was a prerequisite for progress.  If Obama is serious about diplomacy with Iran and nuclear non-proliferation, he will need to seriously re-evaluate the US’s relationship with Israel.

Prominent Washington adviser Aaron David Miller argues exactly that in a recent Newsweek article.  He said that it makes no sense for Israel to punish Hamas by making life unbearable for people of the Gaza Strip.

Then there’s the settlements issue. In 25 years of working on this issue for six secretaries of state, I can’t recall one meeting where we had a serious discussion with an Israeli prime minister about the damage that settlement activity-including land confiscation, bypass roads and housing demolitions-does to the peacemaking process. There is a need to impose some accountability.

I find Obama’s unwavering support for Israel disconcerting, particularly the lack of acknowledgement about the message its nuclear program sends to the international community.  However, a scholar in international affairs recently told me that he believes Obama is being strategic.  “Only Nixon could go to China” he told me, referring to President Nixon’s diplomacy with China after a prolonged fiery anti-communist campaign.  The diplomacy went unchallenged by other fierce anti-communists because they trusted Nixon.  He is hoping that Obama will be able to inspire similar trust in Israeli hardliners, which will make them more amenable to change.

Thus far it is too early to tell what approach Obama will take with Iran, or even to estimate what the most effective policy will be.  Obama says that he supports a two state solution for Israel and Palestine.  In his first week of office he authorized $20.3 million in aid for Palestinians in the Gaza strip, following three weeks of devastating Israeli attacks.

Portions of this entry were adapted from Erin Empey’s “US Nuclear Weapons Policy:Under New Management”, a student policy research paper for the Simons Centre for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Research, Liu Institute, UBC.