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Obama Assures Netanyahu US will be ‘Clear-Eyed’ in Talks to Thwart Iran Bomb

By The Times of Israel

President Barack Obama assured Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that the US remains committed to preventing Iran from attaining nuclear weapons, is keeping the military option on the table, and will not reduce sanctions unless or until it is clear that Iran is taking verifiable actions to match its purported willingness for progress.

Netanyahu, for his part, told the president he appreciated the reiteration of that commitment to stop Iran, and advised that “sanctions should be strengthened” if Iran continues to move ahead toward the bomb. Significantly, Netanyahu demanded the full dismantling of Iran’s “military nuclear” capacity, and made plain that he did not believe President Hasan Rouhani’s assurances that Iran constituted no threat to other nations. Iran, Netanyahu told Obama in their joint media appearance at the Oval Office, remains bent on the destruction of Israel.

The two leaders, who spoke Monday to the media after over an hour of talks, gave the impression of being at ease with each other and closely coordinated. They shook hands more than once; Obama patted Netanyahu on the arm at times; and the Israeli prime minister smiled warmly at the president.

Plainly, Netanyahu did not want to be perceived as an intransigent leader blocking any chance of a diplomatic resolution to the Iranian nuclear standoff. Plainly, too, he was gratified to hear Obama stress that the option of military intervention to thwart Iran remains on the table — something the US president did not cite in a specific Iranian context during his speech at the UN General Assembly last week.

Nonetheless, Netanyahu highlighted that, despite its moderate rhetoric, “Iran is committed to Israel’s destruction. So for Israel, the ultimate test of a future agreement with Iran is whether or not Iran dismantles its military nuclear program… The bottom line, ” he repeated, “is that Iran fully dismantles its military nuclear program.”

Obama, who said the US-Israel alliance and the US commitment to Israel’s security were “stronger than ever, ” said he had to “test diplomacy” and approach Iran “in good faith,” but that the US was entering negotiations “very clear-eyed.”

Said Obama: “We take no options off the table, including military options, in terms of making sure that we do not have nuclear weapons in Iran that would destabilize the region and potentially threaten the United States of America.”

He added: “Given the statements and actions from the Iranian regime in the past, the threats against Israel, the acts against Israel, it is absolutely clear that words are not sufficient; that we have to have actions that give the international community confidence that in fact they are meeting their international obligations fully and that they are not in a position to have a nuclear weapon.”

Iran would have to meet “the highest level of verification” before the international community could start “sanctions relief.” He also promised to consult closely with Israel as the contacts with Iran move forward. It was imperative, for Israel and for world security, said Obama, that Iran not get the bomb. The US did not want a nuclear arms race in the most incendiary part of the world, he noted.

For his part, Netanyahu stressed to Obama that, for the US, “there is no better ally, more reliable, more stable, more democratic other than Israel in a very broad, dangerous” Middle East, and that “the most important challenge” was preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons.

Netanyahu did not dismiss the idea of attempting diplomacy, but he said it was “the combination of a credible military threat and the pressure of those sanctions that have brought Iran to the negotiating table.” If diplomacy is to work, he said, “those pressures must be kept in place. And I think they should not be lessened until there is verifiable success.

And in fact, it is Israel’s firm belief that if Iran continues to advance its nuclear program during negotiations, the sanctions should be strengthened. It’s the combination, I believe, that has guided your policy and our policy so far,” he said. “A credible military threat and strong sanctions, I think, is still the only formula that can get a peaceful resolution of this problem.” He said he appreciated Obama’s remarks “that Iran’s conciliatory words have to be matched by real actions — transparent, verifiable, meaningful actions.”

The White House meeting marked the first time the two leaders had sat together since Obama’s visit to Israel in March. More relevantly, it marked their first personal contact since Obama and his Iranian counterpart, Rouhani, spoke by telephone over the weekend. Israel was informed prior to the conversation, but not consulted on the content, Israeli sources said.

While Jerusalem is exceedingly skeptical, and Netanyahu has urged the international community not to be fooled by Tehran’s diplomatic “smokescreen” as it speeds toward the bomb, the prime minister sought in Washington to discuss the substance of that engagement, in order to define the parameters of a possible deal. Netanyahu has previously listed four demands of Iran: that it halt uranium enrichment, remove already enriched material, close the Fordo nuclear facility, and discontinue the plutonium track in Arak.


Rouhani Unwittingly Told an Israeli Agent How to Deal with Iran

By The Times of Israel

At the height of the Iran-Iraq War, the man who is now Iran’s president met with Israeli President Shimon Peres' adviser Amiram Nir, who was posing as an American envoy, and advised him to bully Ayatollah Khomeini if he wanted concessions.

In August 1986, in the midst of what would become the Iran-Contra Affair, an Israeli adviser to the prime minister, working undercover as a US envoy, met with Hasan Rouhani, the current president of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Rouhani, in discussing ways to facilitate the release of seven US hostages then being held in Lebanon, gave the Israeli the following advice: “First and foremost, you have to be firm with [Iranian leader Ayatollah] Khomeini. Stand strongly before him… If you don’t bare sharp teeth before Khomeini, you’re going to have troubles all over the world. [But] if you threaten him with military force, he’ll kiss your hand and run.”

The conversation between the late Amiram Nir, who was working as Peres’ adviser on counterterror, and Rouhani was brokered by Iranian arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar and conducted in a Paris hotel. Nir wore a wire. In May 1994, some five-and-a-half years after Nir’s mysterious death, Yedioth Ahronoth military correspondent Ron Ben-Yishai published the details of the meeting, which recently resurfaced on the Israeli website Fresh.

Then, as now, Rouhani was depicted by president Ronald Reagan’s administration as a moderate element within Iran — an individual with whom the US could do business. And there was plenty of business to be done.

Iran was at war with Iraq, and losing. Tehran needed arms. The US needed its citizens freed from Hizbullah captivity in Lebanon, and it sought, despite public presidential pronouncements to the contrary, an inside track to the regime, particularly in light of Khomeini’s failing health. A US-led arms embargo known as Operation Staunch, however, barred the US from overtly dealing with Iran.

Enter Israel: The US would send missiles to Iran via Israel, which viewed Iraq as a more natural enemy at the time, and Iran, in turn, would deliver the seven US citizens back to the Americans. That was the plan, and it may have worked, had certain elements on the National Security Council staff not decided to funnel the money back to the anti-communist Nicaraguan forces known as the Contras.

Instead, over the course of more than a year, the US shipped over 500 TOW missiles via Israel to Europe and from there to Iran, along with 150 Hawk surface-to-air missiles and 200 air-to-air Sidewinders, and received little of what was promised in return. Khomeini’s Iran delivered $3.6 million but, absent a credible military threat, and perhaps wary of engagement with the Americans, the regime held on to its strategic asset at the time — most of the humans in its possession — and a former member of the Republican Guard, later executed by the regime, leaked the story to the Lebanese press.

The meeting between Rouhani and Nir took place on August 30, 1986, less than three months before the story was broken in a Lebanese newspaper. Rouhani was deputy chairman of the Majlis at the time and the right-hand man of the de facto commander of the war, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani — a future president of Iran and “the former major-domo of political clerics.” Rouhani, fluent in English, spoke in Farsi with Nir, who was equipped with a US identity and spoke in the name of the White House.

The arms dealer, Ghorbanifar, began in English: “I’ve explained to Dr. Rouhani that you are from the White House, a special envoy to the Middle East, and he is happy to meet with you,” he said. The conversation, Ben-Yishai wrote, was recorded on a small receiver that Nir had taped to his abdomen.

The two men exchanged pleasantries, with Nir thanking Rouhani “in the name of my superiors” for his political positions and his intellectual prowess and Rouhani apologizing for his limited English and the necessity of a translator. “Please. I ask of you. Treat this meeting as a private meeting. Very private,” Rouhani continued. “I do not speak in the name of my government. This meeting opposes all logic. But since I believe in Ghorbanifar, I agreed to come and I hope it will help.”

Substantively, Rouhani said he felt “uncomfortable” in the face of Khomeini’s speech earlier that same day, in which the Supreme Leader had said that all who did not abide by his unwavering anti-American line should be butchered. “But you Americans are at fault. You sit off to the side and see what happens between us and the Iraqis and do not lift a finger to help us. You will not get a thing from Iran so long as there is no movement on your part and you [do not] supply us with what is needed,” Rouhani said.

Rouhani then took a step back and explained that this was the official line, the one he had to parrot. “It should be clear to you that what I have just said is what Rafsanjani demands that I say. If I don’t do so — I’ll be crushed.” He explained that he was surrounded by guards and that the most extreme clerics, such as Khomeini’s son Ahmad, were leading the country. “You need to know who you are dealing with,” he cautioned. Then he added: “All of the moderates in my country are walking along a thin rope. We can’t come meet with you every week. Or even every month. We are prepared for true cooperation with you. But first you must help us promote the true Islam within our country, and for that we need money and your help to end the war [with Iraq].”

Nir thanked Rouhani for his candor and assured him that, while only two people in the US knew of the meeting, and no others would learn of it, there was a great openness and curiosity about Iran in the US and that the administration sought to help the moderates help themselves. “Tell us what you need and we’ll see what can be done.”

Rouhani launched into an explanation about the nature of Ruhollah Khomeini’s rule. “If we analyze Khomeini’s character, we will see that if someone strong stands opposite him, he will retreat 100 steps; and if he is strong and someone weak faces him, he will advance 100 steps. Unfortunately, you have taken a mistaken approach. You have been soft to him. Had you been tougher, your hand would be on top. You did not display strength.”

Nir assured him that in Lebanon the US would play hardball and resist the Khomeini line. “That’s good,” Rouhani said. “They [the Ayatollahs and the Iran Republican Guard Corps] two days ago sent $3 million to Lebanon and we in Iran don’t have money to pay for the cost of living and our own security. They gathered all of the Lebanese mullahs in Baalbek and made promises and decided to turn Lebanon into an Islamic republic. What nonsense!! I tried to stop it and didn’t succeed. If you don’t bare sharp teeth before Khomeini, you’ll have trouble all over the world.”

Nir asked where and how the US should display its strength. Rouhani replied: “If, for instance, you said to him [Khomeini], ‘You must release all of the hostages in Lebanon within five days. If not — we’ll deal you a military blow and you will be responsible for the results,’ do it, show that you are strong, and you will see the results.”

Nir adhered to the US line, saying that while he represented a superpower he feared that severe action could force Iran into the arms of the Russians. Rouhani advised him to “use Muslim propaganda against Khomeini with the help of Turkey and Pakistan.” At that point, Nir excused himself, went to the bathroom, and flipped over the tape.

Ben-Yishai wrote that the two went on to speak for more than an hour and clearly enjoyed a good rapport. As they stood up to leave, Nir asked Rouhani how to help those in Iran who believe “that Iran’s future is linked to the West.”

Rouhani said “a book could be written about that,” but advised that the best option was for him to return to Tehran and talk to those surrounding Ayatollah Hosein-Ali Montazeri and get back to Nir with a message. Montazeri, then the front-runner to inherit the position of supreme leader from Khomeini, was critical of the Iran-Iraq War and a strong supporter of a more equitable and democratic Shiite state. Rouhani sought to promote his candidacy, Ben-Yishai wrote, and that was at the heart of the meeting.

On Nov. 3, 1986, two Lebanese papers broke the story of the arms deal. Montazeri, whose writing and rhetoric fueled the Green Revolution in 2009, was forced aside despite his superior religious authority, and the reins of power were later put in the hands of Ali Khamenei, a more extreme cleric, who still rules Iran today.

On November 30, 1988, Amiram Nir boarded a one-engine Cessna T-210 on a flight from Uruapan, Mexico, to Mexico City. He was said to have been in the country on avocado business. The plane went down in the mountains, on a clear day, and Nir was pronounced dead. Much speculation has revolved around the possibility of foul play in that death, as Nir could personally attest to the fact that very senior US officials knew the details of the Iran-Contra Affair. Adriana Stanton, Nir’s traveling partner, who also boarded the plane under an alias, told Channel 10′s HaMakor program in 2009 that she saw Nir alive and well after the crash.


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