News / Middle East

    Progress in Iran Nuclear Talks Makes Some US Allies Nervous

    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he delivers a statement to the media after meeting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry November 8, 2013. Israel rejected out of hand a mooted deal between world powers and Iran.Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he delivers a statement to the media after meeting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry November 8, 2013. Israel rejected out of hand a mooted deal between world powers and Iran.
    x
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he delivers a statement to the media after meeting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry November 8, 2013. Israel rejected out of hand a mooted deal between world powers and Iran.
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he delivers a statement to the media after meeting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry November 8, 2013. Israel rejected out of hand a mooted deal between world powers and Iran.
    Talks between six world powers and Iran resume next week in Geneva but the real drama may be occurring elsewhere as the United States tries to reassure Congress and nervous allies that an emerging deal is better than no agreement.
     
    President Barack Obama, already under attack domestically for the bumpy rollout of his signature health care initiative, is trying to convince hawkish members of Congress to hold off on new sanctions against Iran while the Geneva talks hold a chance for success.
     
    At a press conference Thursday, Obama noted that sanctions already in place had helped bring the Iranians back to the table with a more realistic attitude. The U.S., he said, was offering only “modest relief at the margins of the sanctions that we’ve set up” in return for Iran freezing and rolling back some elements of its nuclear program for six months. “If it turns out six months from now that they’re not serious, we can crank -- we can dial those sanctions right back up,” Obama said. 
     
    The drama is now in the Senate, where Democratic leaders are trying to block quick action on new sanctions legislation. In the past, sanctions advocates have attached such measures to a must-pass bill authorizing annual defense spending. As of this writing, it appears that the defense bill will not come up for a vote before Thanksgiving, allowing next week’s talks to go forward without that added complication.
     
    If new sanctions pass now, that could make it more difficult for Iran to accept a deal that requires concessions regarding their nuclear program. However, Obama’s soothing words appear to have had little or no impact on the government of Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has described the reported offer to Iran as a “historic mistake” because it would leave intact much of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure – albeit with greater monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to verify Iranian pledges not to enrich uranium to weapons grade and major restrictions on a heavy water reactor that could produce plutonium, another potential bomb fuel.
     
    A new report by the IAEA on Thursday showed that Iran has significantly slowed the advancement of its nuclear activities, adding only four new centrifuges to its facilities in the past three months and remaining below an Israeli “red line” of 240 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium – sufficient, if further purified, to make a nuclear weapon. Iran also did little to advance the controversial heavy water reactor under construction at Arak. However, what many saw as a positive signal from Iran, Netanyahu dismissed. He said he was not “impressed” since “Iran does not need to expand its program because it already possesses the necessary infrastructure for building a nuclear weapon." 
     
    Others nervous about a potential breakthrough in Geneva include Saudi Arabia, which is already angry at President Obama for failing to go through with threats to bomb Syria after that country’s government killed more than 1,000 Syrian civilians with chemical weapons. Other Arab states on the Persian Gulf such as the United Arab Emirates fear that now that U.S. diplomats are talking directly to Iranian officials in an almost routine manner, the United States will shift the pattern of alliances forged with Sunni Muslim countries in the aftermath of Shi’ite Iran’s Islamic 1979 revolution.
     
    Both the Arabs and the Israelis chafe at the fact that they are not in the room in Geneva negotiating alongside the United States, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany (the P5+1). Even within this grouping – a legacy of the days when the U.S. and Iran did not meet alone -- cracks have appeared that reflect irritation with U.S. policies. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius infuriated Secretary of State John Kerry last weekend when he emerged from the talks at one point to declare that what was on offer was a “sucker’s deal” and suggested that France would take on the burden of toughening the terms.
     
    That kerfuffle – which may have had something to do with Obama leaving France out on a limb over military action in Syria a few months ago -- appears to have been smoothed over and U.S. officials now insist that the P5+1 are all on the same page. But underlying the tensions is the fact that if an agreement is reached, it could have a profound effect on U.S.-Iran relations and lessen U.S. reliance on some of its old allies.
     
    There is no doubt that Obama’s policy toward the Middle East has exhibited “a lot of doubt and hesitancy,” according to Ross Wilson, a former U.S. ambassador to Turkey who is now at the Atlantic Council. The Obama administration has seemed “to lurch from one set of problems to another” and has had difficulty articulating “a coherent vision” for the region, Wilson said Friday to the national conference of World Affairs Councils of America in Washington.
     
    But the “policy choices are extremely difficult,” Wilson noted, and the Middle East keeps changing in ways that even the world’s lone superpower cannot possibly control.
     
    With much of the Middle East in turmoil, the status quo simply will not hold. Some shift in U.S. policies is inevitable as it withdraws from two costly wars and finds itself in the unexpected position of the world’s largest oil producer. A nuclear agreement with Iran would reduce the chances that the United States will go to war again and could bring other benefits for regional conflicts in Syria and between Israel and the Palestinians. But it also brings uncertainties that will be hard for all the parties – in the room in Geneva and outside – to adjust to in the short term.

    Barbara Slavin

    Barbara Slavin is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center and a correspondent for Al-Monitor.com, a website specializing in the Middle East. She is the author of a 2007 book, Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the US and the Twisted Path to Confrontation, and is a regular commentator on U.S. foreign policy and Iran on NPR, PBS, C-SPAN and the Voice of America.

    You May Like

    Video Rubio Looks to Surge in New Hampshire

    Republican presidential candidate has moved into second place in several recent surveys and appears to be gaining ground on longtime frontrunner Donald Trump

    UN Calls for Global Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

    Recent UNICEF report finds at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries

    UN Pilots New Peace Approach in CAR

    Approach launched in northern town of Kaga Bandoro, where former combatants of mainly Muslim Seleka armed group and Christian and animist anti-Balaka movement are being paid to do community work

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Change Iran Now from: USA
    November 17, 2013 2:31 PM
    The deal, according to the details released so far, will substantially weaken the U.S.’s sanctions against Iran, possibly securing the president a reputation for diplomatic goodwill and engagement, while dismantling no centrifuges, destroying no enriched uranium, and securing no guarantee that the country will end or slow most of its nuclear programs. In order for our president to be considering such a deal, he must consider the former to be of vastly more personal and national utility than the latter.

    by: Sunny Enwerem from: Nigeria
    November 16, 2013 10:25 PM
    Let a military strike option be on any final agreement to be taken when ever UN inspector are prevented from carrying out their duty or Iran at any time found to poses anything related to weapons grade nuclear activity.

    by: BENSON NKUITO from: KENYA
    November 16, 2013 11:51 AM
    For sure US need to stand as a supper power, and not trying to make new friends and putting the world peace at risk.Obama need to act as other US presidents to assure peace exist in this world.

    by: Tony Bellchambers from: London
    November 16, 2013 8:50 AM
    It has taken exactly 150 years for the United States to jettison Lincoln's Gettysburg address of 1863, and the Declaration of Independence, when he concluded with the line: "Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

    Under this current, lobby-hijacked administration, we have Government of the people, by the people, for a group of Israeli lobbies including AIPAC.

    President Abraham Lincoln will be turning in his grave at the complete humiliation of this Obama presidency as it is ignored by those House Representatives that have decided to represent a foreign lobby in preference to their own constituents in Alabama, Ohio, Chicago, Detroit, NJ, CA, FL and throughout the United States of America.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.