Dermer, Blinken at AJC Global Forum

HEARD at the AJC’s Global Forum: Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer — “I saw yesterday that at the Jerusalem Post conference that Sec. Lew was booed. Personally, I think that’s wrong. He’s a real friend of Israel and we may have a disagreement with him about Iran. But we should not cross certain lines. We should not attack the motives of people with whom we disagree. We should be able to air this debate publicly in a way that’s befitting of the great alliance between our two countries… Israel has no better friend in the world than the U.S.”

Yair Lapid: “I was there when the crowd booed Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. It was disgraceful. I know Jack. I’ve worked with Jack. He is a great member of the American Jewish community and a great friend for Israel. We do not need to fight to fight among ourselves, we need each other more than ever.”

Ari Shavit: “I felt embarrassed when I heard the way people treated Sec. Lew yesterday. We can’t survive a day without the U.S.”

Amb. Dermer: “A lot of people were asking why Prime Minister Netanyahu decided to keep the foreign ministry portfolio… and the truth is the Jewish people already have a foreign minister, and so it wasn’t that important, because we have David Harris.”

“I used to tell the Prime Minister when he was having a particularly hard day sometimes… Occasionally the Israeli public may be less than grateful for his leadership. It happens one or two days a week… I would say to him what are you complaining about? Moses did 10 plagues, he split the sea, he went up for 40 days and 40 nights, he was 8 hours late and got a golden calf (laughter). We’re a tough people to govern. There’s a great question why Moses didn’t enter the promise land? I think the answer might be because after 40 years he didn’t want to (laughter)… Israeli chutzpah that makes governing so difficult is what makes Israeli innovation so breathtaking.”

Harris: What’s at the top of your daily agenda? Dermer: “Iran, Iran and Iran. I spend 80% of my time on this issue… This deal is morally different than the deal with North Korea twenty years ago. A lot of comparisons are made but I haven’t heard frequently enough a very important difference. In the North Korean deal there were six parties involved but two of those parties were the South Koreans and the Japanese – the ones who were most vulnerable and most threatened were at the table. So it’s very hard to criticize either President Clinton or President Bush. It’s hard to criticize them for doing what the South Koreans and Japanese were telling them to do. In this case however, the countries that are most vulnerable and opposed to the agreement are not at the negotiating table and that is a big concern. We hope that at least people will listen to our voice.”

Q: If the deal doesn’t happen is there the will to keep sanctions in place? Dermer: “The U.S. has the power to keep the sanctions in place. It requires a credible military threat which may seem counterintuitive. The reason many of these countries came on board to begin with is because they see a potential military confrontation with Iran as worse than a nuclear armed Iran. They got on board the sanctions in order to prevent military actions. That’s why former President Bush passed two U.N. sanctions regimes against Iran because they thought after Afghanistan and Iraq that he might have a military confrontation with Iran. If the U.S. makes clear, if there’s no deal, that there’s still a military option. That if they abandon the sanctions regime then they’ll basically force that to happen then I don’t think they’ll abandon… Also, no German or Chinese bank will choose to do business with Iran over the U.S.”

Deputy Sec. Antony Blinken at the AJC: “I have to tell you that, unfortunately, it is a fantasy to believe that Iran will simply capitulate to every demand if we ratchet up the pressure even more through sanctions… Nor is it likely that our international partners – without whom our sanctions are not effective – would go along with such a plan… Up until now, we’ve kept other countries on board – despite the economic loss that it presents for some of them – in large part because they’re convinced we are serious about diplomacy and about reaching a diplomatic solution. If they lose that belief, it’s the United States, not Iran, that risks being isolated, and the sanctions regime we’ve worked so hard to build will crumble away.” [Transcript

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