Senior officials in the administration of President Barack Obama have conceded over the past few days in conversations with colleagues in Israel that the value of the economic sanctions relief to Iran could be much higher than originally thought in Washington, security sources in Israel.
In official statements by the United States immediately after the agreement limiting Iran’s nuclear program was signed in Geneva between Iran and theF six powers at the end of November it was said that the economic relief Iran would receive in exchange for signing the agreement would be relatively low – $6 billion or $7 billion. Israeli assessments were much higher – about $20 billion at least.
The United States had originally intended to make do with unfreezing Iranian assets in the amount of $3 billion to $4 billion. But during negotiations in Geneva, the P5+1 countries backtracked from their opening position and approved much more significant relief in a wide variety of areas: commerce in gold, the Iranian petrochemical industry, the car industry and replacement parts for civilian aircraft. But the Americans said at the time that this would at most double the original amount.
However according to the Israeli version, the Americans now concede in their talks with Israel that the sanctions relief are worth much more. According to the security sources: “Economics is a matter of expectations. The Iranian stock exchange is already rising significantly and many countries are standing in line to renew economic ties with Iran based on what was already agreed in Geneva.” The sources mentioned China’s desire to renew contracts worth some $9 billion to develop the Iranian oil industry and the interest some German companies are showing for deals with Tehran. “In any case, it’s about 20 or 25 billion dollars. Even the Americans understand this,” the sources said.
The interim agreement is to come into force on January 15. Until then, Iran is not restricted in terms of moving ahead on its nuclear program. Israel was surprised by the public statement by Obama at the Saban Forum in Washington late last week, that the agreements allowed Iran to continue enriching uranium. This is seen as an unnecessary concession considering that negotiations with Iran are still underway. However, the Israeli leadership seems to be seeking to somewhat lower its contentious tones toward Washington after two weeks of public scuffling and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s most recent speech with regard to Iran, also to the Saban Forum, was relatively moderate.
But along with efforts to renew intelligence and diplomatic coordination between the two countries on the nuclear issue, tussles are expected to continue between Obama and Netanyahu in another important arena – the U.S. Congress. The administration is very concerned about the objections to the agreement in Geneva by senators and congress members on both sides of the aisle. A few prominent opponents of the agreement who are experts in foreign affairs and frequently express themselves on the Middle East have articulated doubts about the deal and have called for additional heavy sanctions on Iran if the accord falls through.
Although Israel has not said so publicly, it is clear that Netanyahu’s representatives have also been in touch with these lawmakers in recent weeks. Among them are Republican senators Lindsey Graham, John McCain and Mark Kirk and Congressman Eric Cantor and Democratic senators Chuck Schumer, Robert Menendez and Congressman Steny Hoyer.
The extent of the administrations’ concern can be seen in an editorial in Tuesday's New York Times. The paper reads as if it is quoting Obama’s messages on the Middle East. The article warned against the initiative of senators Kirk and Menendez to prepare new legislation that would complete the very effective sanctions moves they led against Iran a few years ago. According to the proposal, which has the behind-the-scenes support of senior Israeli officials, new sanctions would be instituted if at the end of the six months set out in the interim agreement a satisfactory arrangement is not reached with the Iranians.
The Times warns that the breakthrough attained in Geneva, which it calls the most positive development in relations between the United States and Iran in 30 years, will be put at risk by the initiatives in Congress. The interim agreement is “unquestionably a good deal,” which is preferable to military action and the paper joins the warnings issued both by the White House and the Iranian government against legislation that would sabotage the agreements implementation. According to the Times, moves by Kirk, Menendez and other senior officials are unnecessary and will “enrage the Iranians.” It seems that the U.S. lawmakers are not impressed by this prospect and Netanyahu even less so. In the American-Israeli dispute, the tones may be more muted, but the scene of the next clash is clear – Congress in Washington.