Iran hearts Hagel
Iran’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday it hoped the appointment of Chuck Hagelas the next U.S. defense secretary would lead to “practical changes” in Washington’s foreign policy.
Iran and the United States, adversaries for more than three decades, are at odds over many issues, including the Islamic Republic’s nuclear programme, which Western countries say is aimed at forging a nuclear arms capability. Tehran denies this
“We hope there will be practical changes in American foreign policy and that Washington becomes respectful of the rights of nations,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said at his weekly news conference, Iran’s IRIB news website reported.
He was answering a question about Hagel’s views on Israel and U.S. sanctions on Iran. Israel has threatened military action against its arch-enemy’s nuclear sites if sanctions-backed diplomacy fails to rein in Tehran’s atomic work. Mehmanparast did not elaborate.
(Emphasis mine.) And here I thought Barack Obama had charmed the world when he ascended to the White House in 2008! Who knew he really needed Chuck Hagel’s help to become properly “respectful of the rights of nations?”
Not only is Hagel opposed to issuing even semi-credible threats of force against Iran over its nuclear weapons program, but in the Senate he actually voted against the sanctions that President Obama spent the 2012 election touting as a big foreign-policy triumph. It is generally agreed that Iran has begun to feel the pinch from those sanctions, but so far it hasn’t stopped their nuclear weapons program; they appear to have calculated they can contain their disgruntled populace until the nuclear umbrella pops open. It’s no surprise they’d see Hagel’s installation as Secretary of Defense as a happy signal their job will become easier.
Less enthusiastic about the Hagel nomination is Israel, and the feeling is mutual. CBS News takes the temperature of the Israeli government and finds it a bit chilly:
Hagel’s positions on Israel’s two most pressing foreign policy issues — Iran’s nuclear program and relations with the Palestinians — appear to be at odds with the Israeli government, and critics here fear the appointment could increase pressure on the Jewish state to make unwanted concessions. The appointment could also signal further strains in what is already a cool relationship between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is expected to win re-election later this month.
“Because of his statements in the past, and his stance toward Israel, we are worried,” Reuven Rivlin, the speaker of the Israeli parliament and a member of Netanyahu’s Likud Party, told The Associated Press. But, he added, the strategic partnership between the U.S. and Israel is strong and “one person doesn’t determine policy.”
Netanyahu’s office refused to comment on the appointment, as did officials in the Israeli foreign and defense ministries. But Rivlin’s comments reflected what has been a common sentiment among analysts and commentators here in recent days. In their evening news broadcasts, Israel’s three main TV stations on Monday all portrayed Hagel as cool toward Israel.
The Secretary of Defense doesn’t set diplomatic policy, so if Hagel uses his confirmation process to declare his enthusiastic commitment to stopping the Iranian bomb by all means necessary, and makes the sort of friendly noises toward Israel that President Obama has been known to make right after telling them to redraw their borders, some of the opposition to him might ease up a little. Otherwise, a number of disturbing signals will be sent, and received, by his appointment.