Friday, January 23, 2015
Normally, the visit of a world leader to the United States would be arranged by the White House. But in a breach of sense and diplomacy, House Speaker John Boehner and Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to Washington, have taken it upon themselves to invite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to Congress to challenge President Obama’s approach to achieving a nuclear agreement with Iran.
Mr. Netanyahu, facing an election on March 17, apparently believes that winning the applause of Congress by rebuking Mr. Obama will bolster his standing as a leader capable of keeping Israel safe. Mr. Boehner seems determined to use whatever means is available to undermine and attack Mr. Obama on national security policy.
Lawmakers have every right to disagree with presidents; so do foreign leaders. But this event, to be staged in March a mile from the White House, is a hostile attempt to lobby Congress to enact more sanctions against Iran, a measure that Mr. Obama has rightly threatened to veto.
In his State of the Union address, Mr. Obama laid out an approach to international engagement that includes shrinking America’s military commitments overseas and negotiating limits on Iran’s nuclear activities in return for a gradual lifting of sanctions. A move by Congress to pass legislation proposing new sanctions could blow up the talks and divide the major powers that have been united in pressuring Iran. Given an excuse to withdraw from talks, Iran could accelerate its nuclear program, curbed for a year under an interim agreement, and force the United States or Israel to use military action or a cyberattack to keep Tehran from producing nuclear weapons.
In a recent Washington Post op-ed article, the foreign ministers of Britain, France, Germany and the European Union also implored Congress to hold off on new sanctions. Similar messages have come from scores of other experts, including two former American national security advisers, Brent Scowcroft, a Republican, and Zbigniew Brzezinski, a Democrat. According to Secretary of State John Kerry, even Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service, warned Congress that new sanctions would scuttle the talks, saying it would “be like throwing a grenade into the process.” Mossad later tried to paper over any perceived differences with Mr. Netanyahu.
Mr. Netanyahu has long defined Iran as Israel’s top threat and made clear his contempt for negotiations. Like his Congressional allies, however, he has never offered a real alternative, except more sanctions (which can’t work if the rest of the world eases up on Iran) or military action. If a deal is finally reached and Congress finds it lacking, tougher sanctions can be imposed then.
Domestic politics are also at work. Republicans apparently see value in trying to sabotage any possible success for Mr. Obama, even if it harms American interests.
As for Mr. Netanyahu, it’s hard to see how disrespecting an American president whom even he says has significantly advanced Israel’s security can benefit his country.
There is no doubt that Mr. Obama will maintain America’s security commitments to Israel, whatever the tensions over the Iran issue. But this event is bound to further harm a bilateral relationship that has endured a lot of battering over the past six years. The White House has said that, understandably, Mr. Obama will not meet with Mr. Netanyahu when he is in town. Even Mr. Kerry, who recently called almost 50 world leaders in an effort to block the Palestinians’ attempt to join the International Criminal Court, is losing patience with Mr. Netanyahu’s decision to “play politics,” according to his aides. Can Mr. Netanyahu really afford to dismiss such allies?
People of Punjab, Khyber Pukhtunkhwa and federal capital may face another round of petrol crisis during next week
By MICHAEL KUGELMAN
President Obama, who is visiting India this weekend, and India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, have both described their countries as natural partners. That may be true. But they cannot achieve a deep and strategic partnership until the United States deals more forthrightly with Pakistan, New Delhi’s neighbor and nemesis.
In other words, Washington must do more to address India’s anxieties about Pakistan. But there is a conundrum. Washington should also not harm its delicate and distrustful relationship with Islamabad.
Yes, Pakistan harbors jihadist groups that threaten and kill Americans. But it also sits astride the Middle East and Asia, boasts a large and young population, and enjoys deep friendships with China and Saudi Arabia. Diplomatic wisdom argues for staying on the good side of such a strategically significant state.
In effect, Washington needs to execute a delicate dance: Push back against Pakistan in order to further America’s friendship with India, while taking care not to alienate the Pakistanis.
A neat trick? Perhaps. But it can be done.
First, America should stop giving free passes to the Pakistani military, which receives billions of dollars’ worth of aid even as it sponsors militant groups that murder Indians. An American law requires that the government, before releasing security assistance, certify that Pakistan’s armed forces have acted to stop Pakistan-based militants, including anti-India groups. But in recent years, the Obama administration has invoked national security waivers that bypass the certification process. That should stop.
Insisting on certification would show India that the White House holds Pakistan’s military to some account. And Pakistan would probably pass. Last year it launched a counterterrorism offensive in North Waziristan, and this month it pledged to ban several militant groups operating on its soil; together, those actions would probably allow Pakistan to attain certification today, as it last did in 2011. Second, Washington should help India guard against Pakistan-based terrorism. It should go beyond placing bounties on top militant leaders, as it does now, but stop well short of staging raids into Pakistan to seize them for transfer to India. It should instead deepen its sharing of intelligence technology with New Delhi to forestall attacks. Encouragingly, Mr. Obama’s visit has been preceded by speculation about a deal involving surveillance drones.
Washington should also target overseas financial holdings of Pakistanis who threaten India. One of India’s most wanted men, Dawood Ibrahim, is an organized crime boss frequently seen in Karachi. According to the United Nations, he funds the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which attacked Mumbai in 2008. He is believed to hold assets in Dubai. Washington should work with officials in the Persian Gulf to freeze those assets.
Third, the United States should try to steer Pakistan’s short-term focus away from Kashmir and toward normalizing trade relations with India. Trade negotiations have progressed in recent years, and Mr. Modi advocates using commercial diplomacy to improve relations with neighbors. And India would be relieved to hear less about Kashmir, an issue that is nowhere near resolution.
Of course, it would be a tough sell for Washington to persuade Pakistan that the economic benefits of trade with India would far outweigh any benefit possible from dwelling on Kashmir. But there may be no better time to try, given the relatively relaxed current state of American-Pakistani relations. Still, any efforts to reassure India must be accompanied by nuanced American diplomacy, so as not to feed into the “America and the world are out to get us” narrative that permeates Pakistan.
The United States should acknowledge Pakistan’s neuroses about India — a nation perhaps seven times as populous and four times as large, with an army twice as big and governed by a Hindu nationalist party known for anti-Pakistan views. Americans should also take into account the Pakistani contention (rejected by New Delhi) that India engages in subversive activities in Pakistan (specifically, that it aids a separatist insurgency in Baluchistan province). Pakistanis have not forgotten India’s support for the secession of East Pakistan — now Bangladesh — in 1971.
Of course, any American plan that intensifies support to India is likely to upset many Pakistanis, whose government has long demanded to be treated as India’s equal. And any plan that aims not to offend Pakistan would have detractors in India.
Realistically, the United States is in no position to allay all of India’s fears about Pakistan — in particular, Pakistan’s rapidly increasing nuclear weapons stockpile. It also can’t end the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment’s insistence on treating anti-India militants as useful proxies. And it won’t succeed at coaxing Pakistan away from policies that are driven by its belief, whether manufactured or real, that India poses a direct threat. Washington should, however, press states that enjoy more leverage with Pakistan — China, for example — to impress upon Islamabad the need to rethink its bellicose posture. China needs stability nearby, and its voice would resonate in Islamabad.
None of these potential limitations should deter Americans from trying this strategy. In fact, there are compelling reasons to push forward. With its combat troops out of Afghanistan, America can relax its fixation on pursuing deep relations with Pakistan, even while taking care not to spoil the relationship, and feel freer to engage India more. Its refocusing toward Asia, which envisions India as a counterbalance to China, should have a similar effect.
So helping New Delhi address its fears of Pakistan while engaging in damage control with Islamabad would be a logical and timely policy — a worthy goal for President Obama.