SHEILA NJAU ’17
On Mar. 3, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel stood before a joint meeting of Congress to voice his opinion about President Barack Obama’s attempt at negotiating with Iran to limit the country’s nuclear program. According to Netanyahu, this agreement would not “be a farewell to arms” but rather “be a farewell to arms control.” He also said that his visit was not “political” and that that was never “[his] intention.” Yet, why would he decide to speak at Congress while State Secretary John Kerry and other U.S. officials were bust participating in conversations with Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Switzerland over Iran’s Nuclear Program? Even more interesting is the fact that he did it so close to his reelection time, which is coming up quick on Mar. 17. The question remains, however, who is on the right side of the argument? Is it President Obama trying to reach an agreement on how the Tehran Nuclear Program should be handled or is it Prime Minister Netanyahu who proposes that this would be a mistake and will lead to more conflict? Not only are those ideas contradictory, but there is also a division in Congress. Fifty Democrats did not attend Netanyahu’s speech. Ultimately it will be up to Congress to approve such an agreement if it’s meant to last.
From Netanyahu’s speech, it is clear that he has support from many in Congress as shown by the applause he received during his speech, not mentioning the warm welcome that Congress gave him when he was making his way down the aisle to take his position at the podium. Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke about how the deal with Iran would allow the country to retain some of its nuclear “facilities.” This would result in Iran having enough fuel to build a bomb in one year. Additionally, this agreement would not affect “Iran’s ballistic missile program” and would be moot in ten years. This does sound dire and I can understand why so many in Congress would be opposed to reaching an agreement with Iran, especially if these problem areas are not addressed. At the same time, I agree with President Obama’s viewpoint on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s lack of substantive contribution to this issue. Yes, he can talk all about what a problem Iran’s nuclear capabilities pose, but as Obama stated, where are the solutions to help solve this crisis? Just saying that the agreement is not a good idea does nothing to solve the issue at hand, which is limiting Iran’s nuclear program. As House Representative Nancy Pelosi stated, Netanyahu’s comments showed “condescension toward our knowledge of the threat posed by Iran.” It goes back to Obama’s question, what solution is Netanyahu proposing, because at this point, not doing anything is not an option, especially after Netanyahu went into such detail talking about the problems with Iran’s nuclear program. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) cannot be counted on to keep track of Iran’s program as shown by its ineffectiveness with North Korea.
I find it hard to envision what it would be like to work in some sectors of the government, particularly those that deal with sensitive issues such as this one. What I think makes me even more scared is the fact that there is such a division in government at this time. The fact that 50 Democrats missed Netanyahu’s speech and many Republicans were giving him ovations is very telling. Then, something else comes to mind that bothers me, how Netanyahu went on and on about how helpful President Obama has been with aiding Israel in various issues such as when Israel had the Camel Forest fire or when Israel’s embassy in Cairo was under attack. In some ways it feels underhanded as if he is trying to straddle the fence. I understand that elections for Netanyahu are coming up, but this does not seem like the time to be trying to save face with President Obama on one hand and then bashing him for his foreign policy on the other. I am left wondering whether he approached the President first with his worries before making the decision to speak to Congress if he is truly concerned about Obama’s continued support over Israel’s affairs.
This agreement is not only between the U.S. and Iran, but also includes Britain, France, China, Germany, and Russia. Doesn’t the fact that these countries also support reaching some sort of agreement say something? The fact that Obama has said that he would not let Iran have a nuclear weapon, and would take action if such a thing happened also says something. To be honest, I think, Isaac Herzog, an opponent of Netanyahu said it best when he stated that Netanyahu’s speech “will not stop Iran going nuclear.”