Monthly Archives: September 2013

The Human Rights Question: Part I

Interviewed for ABC’s This Week Sunday morning, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif repeated Iran’s claim that the U.S. sanctions were ‘illegal’. FM Zarif noted the harm the sanctions were doing to Iran’s population, thus harking back to President Rouhani’s remarks to the United Nations General Assembly earlier in the week when the President had condemned the sanctions for violating the human rights of Iranians.

What of this claim? Do the U.S.-European sanctions on Iran run afoul of international law, and more specifically, human rights norms? Since this is a topic of both personal and scholarly interest to me (I have drafted a paper looking at the issue that I am preparing for publication), I will write in more detail about it later this week.

For now, though, I want to leave you with this. Long ago when I was still a law student, I was involved with a group intent on creating a climate of awareness on campus concerning the effects U.S. sanctions have and were having on Iran. Most of what we did was educational, as knowledge on the nature of the U.S. sanctions regime and historical U.S.-Iran relations was in short supply on campus. We hosted expert speakers, tabled, leafletted — all the normal activities of a campus group.

Not surprisingly, after discovering our activities, the Students for Israel chapter on campus became likewise involved, though for the purpose of challenging our narrative concerning the U.S. sanctions. Eventually, having drawn enough campus interest, we decided to hold a campus debate.

That debate took place this past January. You can find video of the debate on YouTube here. But I’m publishing the opening and closing statements (appropriately labelled) below for readers. Some of this is, undoubtedly, dated, but nonetheless I think it remains relevant and pressing for those interested in both seeing thru this new promise of U.S.-Iran dialogue and ensuring that Iranians remained unharmed by the political difference between the two.

Debate Question

In light of moral and efficacy concerns, are the U.S. sanctions targeting Iran an appropriate and legitimate tool of statecraft?

Opening Statement

In regards to the question before us tonight, we answer in the negative: the U.S. sanctions on Iran are neither appropriate nor legitimate, but are instead in stark violation of international legal norms, including human rights norms and the principle of proportionality, and are counterproductive to both resolving the nuclear dispute with Iran and achieving ultimate reconciliation with the Islamic Republic.

We hold this position for three reasons:

First, the U.S. (and European) sanctions on Iran will have (and are plainly intended to have) harsh effects on Iran’s civilian population. Writing in The Hill, the Congressional newsletter, Democratic House Representative Brad Sherman, outed the animating principle behind the sanctions: “Critics argue that [the sanctions] will hurt the Iranian people. Quite frankly, we need to do just that.” Sherman’s honest appraisal of the intent behind the U.S. sanctions regime should be cause for serious cognitive dissonance for those still ascribing to the nomenclature of ‘targeted sanctions’: the U.S. sanctions on Iran are, in fact, targeted, but quite deliberately, targeted at Iran’s civilian population.

To be clear, too, the humanitarian effects of the U.S. sanctions regime no longer remain hypothetical. Last October, the United Nations noted that the sanctions were having “significant effects on the [civilian] population, including an escalation in inflation, a rise in commodities and energy costs, an increase in the rate of unemployment and a shortage of necessary items, including medicine.” This last item, too – the shortages in medicines – is cause for deep concern. In September, the Washington Post published a report on the toll the sanctions were having on the poor and sick in Iran, as “deliveries of medicines and raw materials for Iranian pharmaceuticals [were] either stopped or delayed.” Those bearing the brunt of the sanctions, the Post continued, were “cancer patients and those being treated for complex disorders such as hemophilia, multiple sclerosis, and thalassemia.” The Post highlighted the story of an 8-year Iranian boy, Milad, who was diagnosed with severe hemophilia and was reliant on a U.S.-based drug for treatment and, quite literally, survival. Since the sanctions took effect, most especially the broad-based financial ones last summer, Milad’s access to medical treatment has proved infrequent. He will soon lose the use of his right leg as a result.

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Iran Opens, Obama’s Move

Optimism is in full supply for the first time in a long time on the U.S.-Iran front. On Thursday, Iran Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry held a short bilateral discussion following the EU3+3 talks, and both emerged from that meeting speaking in positive terms about its tone and substance. The next round of talks is already scheduled for October 15-16 in Geneva, and the parties have set a timeframe of one year for a final deal to be reached. The atmosphere is now tense with excitement and anticipation, and even mainstream foreign policy analysts suggest that we may be on the verge of the most significant breakthrough since Nixon went to China.

Iran’s delegation to the United Nations came to New York with a punch. High off the ‘charm offensive’ that dominated the prior week, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif went on a fast-paced tour – meeting with European diplomats, holding TV and media interviews, and engaging in long private discussions with the media and foreign-policy elite. In each of these, the pair struck a conciliatory tone, promising Iran’s cooperation in clarifying the nature of its nuclear program all the while hoping for a similar good-faith response from the White House. To say that Rouhani and Zarif have changed the tenor of the U.S.-Iran relationship would be shortchanging the truth.

The question now is, however: How will the White House respond? President Obama, who spoke Tuesday morning before the UN General Assembly, took cautious steps in his approach to Iran, taking care to note the sources of Iran’s mistrust towards the United States (e.g., the CIA’s role in Mossadegh’s coup in 1953), speaking the ‘language of respect’ (quite literally, using the word three times in regards to Iran), but still refusing to recognize anything more than Iran’s ‘right to access’ nuclear energy. The White House, it seems, is looking to play it safe until Iran shows its hand.

But caution is a fool’s game, especially when strong forces in Washington are priming to sabotage any potential rapprochement between the U.S. and Iran. It is critical that the White House – if it is indeed serious about reaching a deal with Iran and settling the nuclear issue – takes aggressive action to stay one step ahead of the critics. That is, after all, what we are seeing from President Rouhani and his ministers right now, as hardliners in Iran find it impossible to keep up with events.

To do this, the White House should give Iran what it is seeking – clarity as to what an endgame looks like. It is clear that the sanctions on Iran are hurting the country and its people, as Iran stumbles into negative GDP growth, skyrocketing inflation, high unemployment, and a growing inability to sell its chief export – oil – abroad. Iran is, no doubt, feeling the pressure. But even more clearly, Iran is not willing to forgo its clear and obvious rights – the most important of which is the right to engage in research, production, and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. No Iran expert that I know suggests Iran will ever be willing to capitulate to the United States over the nuclear issue, regardless of the pressure placed upon it.

That is why the White House needs to lay its cards on the table and outline a possible deal. Such a deal will likely involve replicating in substance the kind of deal Iran itself offered the EU3 back in March 2005, in which President Rouhani, who was then in charge of the nuclear file as head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, declared that Iran would accept caps on enrichment should the U.S. and Europe permit Iran a small but symbolic nuclear enrichment program. In return, the U.S. would have to lift the sanctions gradually but speedily, so as to assure Iran that its right to enrich is being recognized and not punished.

Thus far, the Obama administration has fell far short of offering that kind of deal. This past April, the best the White House could do was demand Iran halt all enrichment at the 20% level and close its nuclear enrichment facility at Fordow in exchange for small but significant sanctions relief. To Iranian ears, that meant Iran gives up a lot in return for little. Moreover, by failing to recognize Iran’s enrichment rights upfront and providing only limited sanctions relief, the U.S. made clear to Iran that such a deal was not an end-game but a mere stepping stone to U.S. plans to force Iran to forgo its nuclear rights. That made it a non-starter – and will continue to do so, regardless of Iran’s government.

Can we expect the White House to change its tone and deliver real substance to the nuclear talks? That much is unclear. Back in 2009, Secretary of State Kerry, in an interview with the Financial Times, blasted as ‘bombastic diplomacy’ the Bush administration’s insistence that the U.S. refuse to recognize Iran’s right to enrich. To the Senate Democrat at the time, that stance was a ‘ridiculous’ one that did nothing more than ‘harden the lines’ of the parties. Having been handed the nuclear file from President Obama now, will the Secretary of State take this unique opportunity to offer Iran recognition of its nuclear rights and thus finalize a deal? If so, it will be, as others have said, a Nixon-in-China moment – a dramatic and promising change in world affairs. If not, it will be revealed just how inherent U.S. hostility to Iran truly is, that even reasonable people cannot be dissuaded from such ‘unreasonable’ policies.

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Iran News Update — 9/26/13

A day after his UN General Assembly talk, Iran President Hassan Rouhani continued to be the main draw in New York, as parties prepared for Thursday’s nuclear talks.

In the morning, President Rouhani held an exclusive interview with pre-selected members of the press corps, where he once again condemned Nazi crimes against the Jews. During the interview, Rouhani also noted that his failure to meet with President Obama on Tuesday was due to a lack of time to successfully coordinate the exchange and hinted that such a meeting could well take place in the near future. Importantly, Rouhani said that a diplomatic resolution to the nuclear issue was not a matter of years, but of months away – thus adding to the expectation that promises to greet tomorrow’s launch of the negotiations.

Iran’s delegation continued to make the rounds with foreign diplomats, especially the Europeans. Thus far, the delegation has coordinated high-level meetings with the UK Foreign Secretary, the French President, and the German Foreign Minister. President Rouhani, who worked closely with the EU3 when he was in charge of Iran’s nuclear file in 2003-05, looked to be diligently renewing those relationships in preparation for the talks. Each of the EU3 countries has responded well to the meetings, noting the positive change in tone of the Iranians.

Besides Thursday’s big meeting, Iran’s nuclear negotiators will also be meeting with the IAEA in Vienna this Friday for long-stalled talks on how to proceed on outstanding issues, including Parchin. Those talks have been underway for quite awhile now, as the two sides battle it out on whether the IAEA should be taking a closed- or open-ended approach. Iran has signaled a breakthrough could be possible, promising to engage in good-faith with international inspectors when talks resume.

The focus, though, is Thursday’s meeting, in which the P5+1 and Iran will determine how to proceed with negotiations. As the Los Angeles Times reports, the biggest hurdle facing the parties will be Iran’s insistence on its NPT Article IV right to enrich on its own soil — a right that the U.S and European parties have been loathe to recognize. Whether a deal will be struck could well hinge on the U.S. permitting Iran limited enrichment rights, provided that a robust inspections regime be put in place to ward against diversion of nuclear materials.

Meanwhile, Iran’s former president and leading reformist, Mohammad Khatami, called for the release of all political prisoners in Iran on his personal website today. Khatami’s call comes in response to the release of 80 political prisoners earlier this week and signals an ease to the climate of silence regarding those arrested in the 2009 election aftermath.

Finally, at LobeLog, Mitchell Plitnick reviews Rouhani’s trip to New York thus far, asking the extent to which Israel could play spoiler in the upcoming talks. And Andrew Sullivan takes a look at Israel’s affiliate, AIPAC, and its burgeoning strategy to kill a deal.

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Sanctions Worked and Other Fairytales

With high-level talks scheduled Thursday and the promise of a nuclear deal hanging in the balance, the big question is how did we get here. For more than a decade, negotiations between the U.S. and Iran have crawled unsteadily along, full of mutual recriminations, with little to no overlap in their respective bargaining positions. The horizon looked bleak, as Iran faced continued U.S., European, and international sanctions, as well as the ever-present threat of U.S. and Israeli military action. To be optimistic two months ago would have been the real cause for concern.

But over the past three weeks, promise has built to impossible heights. In June, Iran elected a new President – an experienced diplomat well-versed in the nuclear talks – and charged forward on what is being called its ‘charm offensive’. To the delight of Iran observers, the nuclear talks looked to be back on the menu, as presidents exchanged conciliatory letters, diplomats expressed cautious hope, and meetings were set for take-off. The tune had changed dramatically, and optimism had become an appropriate feeling once more.

So what changed? Listen to the White House, and you’d chalk it up to the sanctions. That has been the messaging from Deputy National Security Adviser Benjamin Rhodes over the past two weeks, who has, on successive occasions, stated that Iran’s willingness to negotiate signaled the correctness of the U.S.’s dual-track strategy. Certainly, the White House has been supported in that claim by U.S. and Israeli hawks on all sides, who have noted that the noose has tightened around the neck of Iran and the Ayatollahs are now begging for reprieve.

But chalking up Iran’s new ‘charm offensive’ to the U.S. sanctions is a little more than a stretch. It is downright fantasy.

Undoubtedly, the U.S. and European sanctions have caused untold pain to Iran’s economy. Even without reliable data, it is clear that Iran is achieving negative GDP growth, inflation is sky-high, factories are producing at low capacity, and Iran is unable to sell its chief export to willing buyers. Ordinary Iranians suffer because of all this, as food prices rise, imports like rice and chicken (staples of the Iranian diet) become harder to come by, and unemployment continues its steady grind. This is all proving to be cause for concern for Iran’s leadership.

Sanctions have caused other harms to Iran that prove more difficult to measure, too. For instance, Iran is missing out on political and regional integration, including with the budding Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Asia Development Bank, etc., which have all cited the international sanctions on Iran as cause for rejecting Iran’s application for membership. Moreover, Iran is having enormous difficulty finding international donors willing to contribute to development projects in Central Asia – a problem that both diminishes Iran’s stature in the region and stalls any possible economy recovery.

Nonetheless, we can admit that Iran is in trouble, while also finding that this trouble is hardly provoking Iran to capitulate to U.S. demands on its nuclear program. Quite the contrary, in fact.

Back in 2003, when the negotiations first started between Iran and the EU3, Iran’s position was that it be permitted to enrich uranium on its own soil. To ensure Europe’s confidence in negotiations, Iran agreed to suspend all enrichment-related activities in 2003, then all precursor activities in 2004. In March 2005, Iran proposed limits on its enrichment program, while promising to refrain from all reprocessing activities. That is as far as Iran came to settling the issue during negotiations: limited enrichment rights, no reprocessing, and suspension during negotiations.

The EU3, which did not make a real offer to Tehran until August 2005, rejected Iran’s proposal and presented its own. This proposal denied recognition of Iran’s right to enrich and instead settled for a ‘right to access’ nuclear energy from international suppliers. In other words, the EU3 provided that Iran could have a nuclear program, but one that was completely reliant on the good-faith of nuclear suppliers abroad. This proved to be the standard line of U.S.-European negotiators until April 2012, when the P5+1 impliedly accepted a limited right to enrichment provided a robust inspections regime be put in place.

The question is, where is Iran now? Have the sanctions forced it back to the drawing board to revise its position and give up its claim to nuclear enrichment? Will it suspend enrichment activities during negotiations?

Based on what we know, the short answer is no. Yesterday, during his UNGA speech, President Rouhani reaffirmed Iran’s ‘inalienable right’ to nuclear enrichment. Talk to any serious Iran observer, too, and it is clear that any nuclear deal will have to acknowledge limited rights to nuclear enrichment and reprocessing activities. Moreover, unlike in 2003-04, Iran will not be conceding to suspension during the negotiations. That was, as has been made clear, a one-off deal which the U.S. and Europeans muffed in taking their muscled approach to Iran. In other words, the sanctions have not moved Iran an iota from its March 2005 proposal, but rather have, if anything, hardened its position on the nuclear program.

Meanwhile, time has done no favors to the U.S. and European stance. Having for so long rejected Iran’s right to enrich, it is clear that if a deal is to be struck, it’ll have to accept a limited enrichment program. Moreover, it’ll have to accept that, as time has gone by, Iran has clearly acquired the technical know-how and capacity to run an advanced civilian nuclear program. This would have been anathema to U.S. and European negotiators back in 2005. But the pressure strategy, pursued since that time, has made it a reality.

So instead of judging Obama’s dual-track strategy a success story, it is useful to take a broad look at the parties’ negotiating positions and see who is moving towards who. As I and others warned back then, sanctions are not just bad for Iran and its people, but bad policy, too. We’re on the verge of witnessing it.

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Iran News Update — 09/25/13

Yesterday, Presidents Obama and Rouhani both took to the lectern at the United Nations General Assembly meeting to deliver their remarks to the international body.

In the morning, President Obama followed a heated speech by Brazilian Prime Minister Dilma Rousseff, in which she decried NSA spying in Brazil, and outlined three areas in which U.S. diplomatic efforts would be focused: Syria, Iran, and the Israel-Palestine conflict. In regards to Iran, the President recognized Iran’s historical grievances to the U.S., signaled ‘respect’ to Iran by invoking the word three times, and promised to push for a deal to overcome the long-broken relationship. Nonetheless, Obama said the onus was on Iran to show the world that it intended only a peaceful nuclear program and vowed to keep up the pressure should confidence not be restored.

In the late afternoon, President Rouhani took to the podium and largely reiterated the grand themes of his recent Washington Post Op-Ed. Noting first Iran’s regional stature in the Middle East, Rouhani demanded that Iran be accorded due respect and that the language of threats be brought to end. Pointedly, Rouhani condemned the economic sanctions placed on his country and the spate of terrorist attacks on Iran’s nuclear scientists, all the while noting that a potential nuclear deal between the U.S. and Iran was ‘within reach’. Following, he honed in on his message of prudence and moderation, promising to push for a UN-sponsored international conference to end ‘violence’ and ‘extremism’. Overall, the speech was most notable for its absence of references to the United States and Israel (zero in all), and its citation of the Quran, the Bible, and the Torah at its closing. You can find the full text of the speech here.

Meanwhile, a widely-expected meeting between Obama and Rouhani did not materialize, as Iran’s President did not show up to the UN Secretary General-hosted luncheon. The reasons are unclear. According to White House sources, Iran had said a meeting would prove to be ‘too complicated’. On the other hand, Iran noted it had not received a formal offer to meet from the U.S. Observers also pointed out that Iran has never attended the UNGA luncheon out of religious concern, as wine is served. Whatever the reasons, there looks to be no historic handshake this time around.

That turns the focus to Thursday’s meeting, where the P5+1 and Iran will hold talks on the nuclear issue. It has already been announced that Secretary of State John Kerry will attend the meeting, having been handed the nuclear file from President Obama. This will be the highest-level contact between the U.S. and Iran since 1979.

Later in the evening, President Rouhani was interviewed on CNN360, where he signaled his acceptance of the Holocaust as an historical fact – a significant change from his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Pressed on the issue, Rouhani condemned the Nazi ‘crimes’ against the Jewish people, saying that the ‘taking of human life’ is ‘reprehensible’. Iran’s President had been earlier criticized after taking an agnostic approach last week during an interview with NBC’s Ann Curry.

Finally, there’s some must-reads on yesterday’s events. First, Akbar Ganji explains the concept of Iran’s ‘heroic flexibility’, situating it within the grand strategy of Iran’s leadership. Second, Paul Pillar warns that Israel will play the role of spoiler if the U.S. permits it to do so and thus advocates for outreach directly to the Israeli public. Third, the Guardian considers yesterday’s speeches and sees a need for Thursday’s meeting to set a positive tone that a deal is, in fact, ‘within reach’. Lastly, Ali Gharib wonders whether President Obama will be able to fulfill his end of the bargain (i.e., sanctions relief) in any potential deal.

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Why Language Matters

In diplomatic circles, language matters. Those who follow the deliberations of the Security Council know that every word in a UNSC resolution is debated and fought over at length until compromise is reached. Each word becomes battlefield terrain in which signals are sent and feelers stretched. What is said is as important as what is not said. This is true just as well in a state’s own press releases, diplomatic correspondence, official speeches, etc.

That’s why what Obama said and didn’t say in the UN General Assembly speech is important. When I first listened to it, I heard Obama signal the U.S.’s respect for Iran’s right to nuclear development. That was, at least to me, a significant concession, as Iran has insisted on its NPT rights from the get-go and bemoaned the fact that the U.S. and Europeans were so hesitant to admit it. I thought this was an important signal to the Iranians that the White House was intent on forging a real compromise and was taking into account the concerns and protestations of Iran.

But I heard wrong. Obama’s speech has been published online, and I’ve had the chance to look over the text. He didn’t admit to Iran’s right to nuclear development. Instead, he said that the U.S. “respected the right of the Iranian people to access nuclear energy.” That is a very different concession, and to Iranian ears, no concession at all. In fact, respecting Iran’s access to nuclear energy hardly varies from the position adopted by Israel and its hawkish affiliates in the U.S. (such as AIPAC and the FDD).

Iran believes that its core interests ward in favor of an indigenous nuclear program, in which Iran enriches and produces nuclear energy on its own soil. The question for Iran is, to what extent will that right be limited – 5%, 20%, limits on centrifuges, etc.? That should be the issue for upcoming negotiations.

To U.S. and Israeli hawks, however, Iran must not be allowed to enrich uranium on its own soil. The farthest the hawks are willing to go is to allow a peaceful nuclear program in which Iran halts all enrichment and relies on the good-faith of international suppliers. In this scenario, Iran would have a civilian nuclear program, but one that permits no indigenous production. This is a line in the sand.

Reading over Obama’s speech, I see he favored the Israeli approach. His looked like a concession to Iran, but it was truly anything but. Instead, he played it safe – speaking the language of ‘respect’, all the while ignoring Iran’s insistence that its treaty rights be recognized. He bought the hawks’ line, leaving the issue of U.S. recognition of Iran’s nuclear rights to be negotiated over in the coming months.

That, I think, is unfortunate. It is also unsettling. Just as we debate whether Iran’s ‘charm offensive’ is sincere or simply an elaborate public relations ruse, Iranians interrogate U.S. intentions at length to find signals that the U.S. is, at this time, finally prepared to negotiate in good-faith. I’m not sure Iran will find much in Obama’s speech to help it make that determination. Failing to admit of Iran’s nuclear production rights certainly didn’t help.

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Iran News Update — 9/24/13

Yesterday, the annual United Nations General Assembly meeting opened in New York, and Iran was front and center in the news cycle. In the morning, Iran Foreign Minister Javad Zarif met with EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton and exchanged plans on how the parties should proceed. Lady Ashton spoke with the press afterwards, where she said she was ‘struck by the energy and determination’ on Iran’s side. The two made plans for additional talks with the P5+1 parties on Thursday in New York, and then a follow-up meeting at some point in October. Later, in the afternoon, Iran’s Foreign Minister met with his British counterpart, William Hague, who likewise said the discussion was ‘positive’.

Expectation is high today for a potentially historic meeting between Presidents Obama and Rouhani. Yesterday, the UN Secretary-General extended an invitation to Iran President Hassan Rouhani to attend a luncheon the Secretary-General is hosting at UN headquarters. President Obama is scheduled to attend the luncheon as well, leading to hopes that the two will shake hands and exchange pleasantries – the first contact between U.S.-Iran heads-of-state since 1977. It has long been suspected that should the two meet in person during the UNGA, the Secretary-General would play host. That eventuality has now arrived.

Both heads-of-state are scheduled to speak before the full General Assembly tomorrow as well – Obama at 9:15 in the morning, Rouhani at some point in the mid-afternoon. Focus will be on Rouhani, who has launched a ‘charm offensive’ that has taken the world by storm. Expect conciliatory words aimed at ridding from public memory the legacy of former Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Los Angeles Times has the scoop on Rouhani’s planned speech.

The State Department announced that Secretary of State John Kerry would attend the P5+1 talks with Iran scheduled for Thursday. It will be the highest level meeting between Iran and the United States since 1979 – provided that Presidents Obama and Rouhani do not beat them to it today. Moreover, the Secretary of State’s presence signals to Iran the U.S.’s intent on resolving the nuclear dispute and other outstanding issues between the parties.

This schedule promises a wild ride from here on out this week. But even away from New York, events are likewise contributing to the feeling that a deal could well be imminent. Soon after Iran President Rouhani left for New York yesterday afternoon, Iran announced the release of 80 political prisoners – a dramatic move intended to both signal a new era in Iran to the world and a promise kept to Rouhani’s domestic constituencies in Iran. This news follows last week’s release of a dozen rights activists, including high-profile human rights lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh.

Meanwhile, former Iran President Mohammad Khatami penned an Op-Ed in the Guardian, noting that the opportunity had arrived for the United States to finally accept a deal. Khatami, who was head-of-state in Iran from 1997-2005 and remains a leading reformist politician, expended considerable political capital while in office reaching out to the U.S., offering the Bush administration a ‘Grand Bargain’ in 2003. In each episode, Khatami was rebuffed by the United States.

Israel remains steadfast in its opposition to U.S.-Iran talks, preparing a sharp counter-offensive to Iran’s recent outreach to the U.S. The Guardian reviews Israeli reaction to Iran’s ‘charm offensive’, including Israeli minister Yuval Steinitz’s plea that ‘there is no time left for talks.’ Israeli Prime Minister plans to press the issue both during his speech to the General Assembly and his meeting with President Obama later this week.

In like manner, the Iranian-American Jewish Federation has rebuffed an invitation from President Rouhani to meet on the sidelines of the UNGA meeting. Rouhani, who has brought Iran’s sole Jewish member of parliament to New York as part of his delegation, had extended the invitation more than a week ago in the hopes of doing outreach work to the Jewish-American community. However, the Federation said that its rejection was based on fear of ‘sending the wrong message to the White House and to American public opinion at this sensitive time.’ The Federation had consulted with major U.S. Jewish organizations prior to making a decision.

U.S. Congressional leaders have expressed their opposition to the White House’s reciprocation of Iran’s outreach. Florida House Representative Ihleana Ros-Lehtinen, a leading proponent of the sanctions effort, called a potential meeting between Obama and Rouhani ‘a terrible idea’ and expressed her preference for Ahmadinejad (“I miss Ahmadinejad”), saying he was a ‘what you see is what you get’ kind of guy. Whether the Congress will find the means to disrupt White House talks with Iran remains unclear, though there has been a push of late for renewed sanctions.

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