The front page of the Sunday New York Times offered a weird, weird story yesterday morning.
Slugged as a “diplomatic memo,” it reported a supposedly “little noticed” glitch in some recent US negotiations over nuclear nonproliferation.
It was only one paragraph buried deep in the most plain-vanilla kind of diplomatic document, 40 pages of dry language committing 189 nations to a world free of nuclear weapons. But it has become the latest source of friction between Israel and the United States in a relationship that has lurched from crisis to crisis over the last few months.
At a meeting to review the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in May, the United States yielded to demands by Arab nations that the final document urge Israel to sign the treaty — a way of spotlighting its historically undeclared nuclear weapons.
Just one paragraph! Who knew?
But however much the story surprised the Times, the fact is: some people DID know – and even reported what they knew. Here for example is Eli Lake fifteen months ago predicting exactly what the NYT reported with such astonishment today.
President Obama’s efforts to curb the spread of nuclear weapons threaten to expose and derail a 40-year-old secret U.S. agreement to shield Israel’s nuclear weapons from international scrutiny, former and current U.S. and Israeli officials and nuclear specialists say.
The issue will likely come to a head when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Mr. Obama on May 18 in Washington. Mr. Netanyahu is expected to seek assurances from Mr. Obama that he will uphold the U.S. commitment and will not trade Israeli nuclear concessions for Iranian ones.
And here’s Jay Solomon of the Wall Street Journal reporting the yielding as it happened in real time two months ago:
The U.S. is negotiating with Egypt a proposal to make the Middle East a region free of nuclear weapons, as the U.S. seeks to prevent Iran from derailing a monthlong U.N. conference on nuclear nonproliferation that begins Monday.
The “news” in the NYT story is the Obama administration’s expressions of regret that their best intentions were overwhelmed by the diplomatic might of Egypt.
The United States, American officials said, faced a hard choice: refusing to compromise with the Arab states on Israel would have sunk the entire review conference. Given the emphasis Mr. Obama has placed on nonproliferation, the United States could not accept such an outcome.
But the important thing, the Times‘ sources want us to know, is that the Obama administration deeply and sincerely regrets that it was not able to do more for Israel – and solemnly promises that it will act more reliably next time.
Administration officials said the United States negotiated for months with Egypt, on behalf of the Arab states, to leave out the reference to Israel. While the United States supports the goal of a nuclear-free Middle East, it stipulated that any conference would be only a discussion, not the beginning of a negotiation to compel Israel to sign on to the treaty.
The United States, recognizing that the document would upset the Israelis, sought to distance itself even as it signed it.
In a statement released after the conference ended, the national security adviser, Gen. James L. Jones, said, “The United States deplores the decision to single out Israel in the Middle East section of the NPT document.” He said it was “equally deplorable” that the document did not single out Iran for its nuclear ambitions. Any conference on a nuclear-free Middle East, General Jones said, could only come after Israel and its neighbors had made peace.
Believe that who will. Meanwhile for those who like their news when current, not 15 months after the fact, Eli Lake is reporting today on the next looming Obama abandonment of a U.S. commitment to Israel.
As Israel’s prime minister prepares for his fifth official meeting with President Obama this week, the White House has declined to publicly affirm commitments made by President Bush to Israel in 2004 on the final borders of the Jewish state. … The April 14, 2004, letter from Mr. Bush to Mr. Sharon said a final peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians should reflect “new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers,” and that “it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.”
Mr. Bush’s letter also said Palestinians would have to agree to the final borders, yet at the time the letter was touted as a major concession by Mr. Sharon’s top advisers as Israel was preparing to withdraw settlements and Israeli troops from Gaza unilaterally.
During a conference call Friday with reporters, Dan Shapiro, the White House National Security Council’s senior director for the Middle East and North Africa, declined to say whether the 2004 letter reflected the Obama administration’s understanding of the parameters or borders of a final settlement to the conflict.