President Obama speaks by telephone with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. (Pete Souza for the White House via Agence France-Press) President Obama speaks by telephone with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
(Pete Souza for the White House via Agence France-Press)

The Obama administration is not exactly instilling confidence among its Middle East allies. Saudi Arabia is threatening, according to multiple news reports, to “scale back its decades-old partnership with Washington over the Obama administration’s perceived weakness in dealing with Syrian leader Bashar Assad, and its recent furtive overtures with the Saudis’ arch-enemy, Iran.” Israel is obviously nervous, going to Canada (which, under Prime Minister Harper, has been a stalwart ally of the Jewish state) to stop a bad deal.

The Jerusalem Post reports:

Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz urged Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to exercise his influence on ally governments with regard to lifting sanctions on Iran before their nuclear program is completely  nullified.

“Canada is very influential and can exercise its  influence elsewhere — in Europe, in China, in America, in Russia, and  elsewhere. It’s very important,” he told Canadian daily Globe and Mail  in an interview published on Sunday.

During a trip to North  American where he is scheduled to meet with Canadian and American  officials, Steinitz also told Harper that Iran’s uranium enrichment  capability must cease, and that pressure is the only way to achieve  that.

“The world should tell them, enough is enough…. If you  decide to proceed with your military nuclear project, you will destroy  the Iranian economy, and maybe expose yourselves to military attack,” he was reported as saying.

“The greater the pressure, the greater  the chances for diplomacy to succeed,” Steinitz reportedly said. “This  is the main working tool. Actually the only tool.”

A former U.S. official who has been critical of this administration observed, “[The Israelis] believe the administration will do anything to get a deal and is acting desperate and weak when it ought to be strong and confident.” Judging from our State Department’s utterances and our behavior on Syria, this is a sound assessment. It is even more disturbing when one considers the Israelis seem only to be asking that we stick by the United Nations’ existing resolutions and the United States’ previously stated position. An official of a pro-Israel organization told me that from the Israelis “the clear message is not to relent on sanctions (and increase them) — and no interim agreement with an easing of sanctions.”

It is remarkable that our allies feel so abandoned. It is even more remarkable that they feel the need to go public, suggesting they’ve been frustrated for some time in getting a satisfactory response from the United States.

Now while the administration is unresponsive to our allies, Congress is not.  The Associated Press reported: “Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, a key proponent of Iran sanctions, plans to introduce an amendment to a new package of international restrictions on commerce with Iran that would seek to provide the administration with more sticks and carrots for talks through Iran’s cash reserves, a Senate aide said. Kirk’s plan would freeze any remaining assets overseas that Iran can still access by threatening to cut off from the U.S. market any foreign banks that continue doing business with Iran.”

Unsurprisingly, “Kirk’s legislation would allow Iran to get the money only if it agrees to end all uranium enrichment and reprocessing, activities that even Rouhani’s new reformist government has vowed to continue.” If that is a problem for the administration, then there is no viable deal that will prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon and we should pivot to a military option. As the AP explained, “The strategy to leverage Iran’s cash reserves is the brainchild of Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the hawkish Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Dubowitz, who often advises Congress and the administration on sanctions policy, said the strategy offers the administration an easy way to raise or ease pressure on Iran.”

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) have been pushing for this or similar action. The banking sanctions are headed for a mark-up in the Senate Banking Committee within a few weeks. It is there that Congress, our allies and the Iranians will see if the administration wants a phony deal more than it wants to get rid of Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

Cliff May, president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, reminds me that in the Wikileaks documents we learned that the Saudis had urged the United States to “cut off the head of the snake,” meaning Iran, the center of the Shia threat to Israel and the Sunni states. We didn’t take the advice then. In resisting it now, we are losing friends, increasing the incentive for them to act unilaterally and conveying to Iran that we are not deeply serious about eliminating its nuclear weapons program.