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Obama, Netanyahu to discuss Iran nuclear program in upcoming talks

March 2, 2014 at 7:58 PM EDT
What issues will President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu address in their upcoming talks in Washington? Jay Solomon, foreign affairs correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, explains the meeting will likely focus on Iran’s nuclear program and a framework for continuing the Middle East peace process.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The crisis in Ukraine will be front and center this week. But important talks about another international trouble spot — the Middle East —  are set to get underway in Washington. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be meeting with President Obama. For more about this, we are joined now from Washington by Jay Solomon. He is foreign affairs correspondent for The Wall Street Journal.

So I imagine front and center are the conversations between the United States and Iran and what sort of sanctions we want to set up. Obviously, Israel says right now that the plan that we have on the table is too easy.

JAY SOLOMON: Yes, that’s right the Israelis and Prime Minister Netanyahu have been very critical since this negotiation really picked up steam last November, saying they want a complete dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program and if they don’t do it, keep the sanctions on them.

The Obama administration is pursuing a diplomacy now that’s really accelerating and has basically accepted that Iran will maintain some ability to produce nuclear fuel in the future and the sanctions have already been eased. So, there is a huge gap between the Israelis and the Americans on this diplomacy and I do think that will be the key issue that the Prime Minister wants to talk with Mr. Obama about.

HARI SREENIVASAN: What about the Middle East peace process in the background? There’s been some friction from the Israelis saying it looks like President Obama wants to spearhead a specific agenda and it’s too aggressive.

JAY SOLOMON: Yea, the peace process has kind of been hanging out there. It’s doesn’t get as much attention in the press as it used to, but it’s still there. Basically, by the end of April — April 30 was the original deadline for these negotiations that we’re brokering  between the Israelis and the Palestinians was supposed to end. Right now Secretary Kerry is really pushing for what’s called a framework agreement which will set clearer terms for what the negotiations will focus on and will allow for this April 30 deadline to sort of be kicked down the road and continue the process.

The Israelis have always been concerned that Americans will create their own deal and say ‘basically take it or leave it.’ This is something they have fought very aggressively and are pushing back about. And I’m sure that after Iran that will be the second-biggest issue the two leaders will discuss.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Speaking of Secretary Kerry, he ruffled a few feathers early on in the month, almost threatening economic isolation and words like boycott were used and the Israelis pushed back quite aggressively to that.

JAY SOLOMON: Yes, correct. He was speaking in Munich at a Security Forum, and he was saying that if this peace process collapses the push by many European companies or governments to bascially boycott Israel will increase a lot. Secretary Kerry basically said he was just describing what was going on, he wasn’t threatening, but there was real pushback by the Prime Minister and a number of very kind of  conservative politicians in Israel.  So I think it just shows how much tension there is between the Obama camps on the Middle East peace process.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Thanks so much.