Friday, September 22, 2006

Rice: Iran Sanctions Will Not Be Linked to Israel Peace Talks

Eli Lake, The New York Sun:
Secretary of State Rice yesterday contradicted her senior counselor, Phillip Zelikow, and assured her Israeli counterpart that America's diplomatic efforts to sanction Iran will not be linked to the peace process.

The reversal, however, may be tactical for now. It may also reflect a wider rift within the Bush administration, which has wrangled for the last month on a State Department proposal to re-energize negotiations between the Jewish state and the Palestinian Arabs. READ MORE

The National Security Council official who oversees the Middle East, Elliott Abrams, is said by administration officials to have opposed a broader peace initiative linked to America's Iran diplomacy. At the same time, Ms. Rice and her inner circle are advocating the policy.

Should a new peace process emerge in the coming months, Israel may be forced to negotiate with a Palestinian Arab government that includes Hamas, a terrorist organization whose charter calls for the destruction of the Jewish state.

Following her meeting with Ms. Rice yesterday, aides to Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told Israeli reporters that the American secretary of state made a point of knocking down Mr. Zelikow's remarks in a speech on Friday.

"A breakthrough on the peace process is not in any way tied to the Iranian issue," an Israeli diplomat who requested anonymity said. Mr. Zelikow was in the room during the discussions, he said. The account of the meeting was confirmed by a Bush administration official yesterday.

"The issues of Iran and Israeli-Palestinian interaction each have their own dynamic, and we are not making a new linkage between the two issues," the State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack, said in an e-mail to the Powerline Web site. "Nothing in Philip's remarks should be interpreted as laying out or even hinting at a change in policy."

Mr. Zelikow, however, highlighted the link between the peace process and Iran on Friday. In a speech at the annual conference of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, he said America is seeking to create "a coalition of builders" that will focus on the peace process as well as preventing the Iranians from acquiring an atom bomb. He said European and Arab allies see the peace process as the "sine qua non," or essential precondition, for any cooperation with the Europeans and moderate Arab states on Iran policy and even the wider war on Islamic terrorism. The dispute over the peace process comes as President Bush is preparing to address the U.N. General Assembly today in a speech that will focus on the Middle East. He is expected to unveil a new humanitarian aid package for the Palestinian Arabs in Gaza, but he also is expected to remind the body of its August deadline for Iran to suspend uranium enrichment.

State Department officials had hoped the U.N.Security Council would agree on language this week for a resolution to sanction Iran, but those talks appear to have run into snags. At best, diplomatic sources now say, an Iran resolution will be deliberately vague, based on a resolution that called for sanctions against North Korea for its nuclear program earlier this year.

Detracting from the urgency for such a resolution are new intelligence reports that suggest Iran's nuclear engineers have run into unexpected obstacles in their efforts to enrich uranium to levels necessary for nuclear weapons or energy. President Ahmadinejad announced in February that his scientists had mastered the nuclear fuel cycle. Western diplomats now say his statement may have been premature.

The question of a link between America's Iran diplomacy and the peace process is particularly troubling for Israel, because its leaders have said they will not negotiate with Palestinian Arab officials that refuse to recognize Israel's right to exist, adhere to prior counterterrorism agreements the Palestinian Authority signed with Israel, and renounce terrorism. Since Hamas won legislative elections in the Palestinian Authority in January, it has rejected calls to meet all three conditions. So far, the leader of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, has been unable to create a unity government with Hamas, in spite of negotiations throughout the weekend.

Despite Mr. Abbas's failure to bring Hamas into a unity tent, he met yesterday with Ms. Livni and will meet today with Mr. Bush. On Thursday, Ms. Rice will attend a special U.N. Security Council meeting to discuss the peace process. The diplomatic constellation known as the Quartet, which includes America, the European Union, Russia, and the United Nations, also will issue a statement on the current "road map."

Israeli officials said privately yesterday that they do not expect any breakthroughs with the Palestinian Arabs at the U.N. General Assembly. They pointed to the failure of the Arab League to draft a consistent proposal to replace the road map plan.