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WSJ Reporter Fills in the Gaps on US-Iranian Relations

09-30-2016

JERUSALEM, Israel – Earlier this week, Israeli journalists were treated to a briefing by Wall Street Journal reporter Jay Solomon, whose recent release, The Iran Wars, shares first-hand insights into Iran's history since the 1980s.

The briefing, sponsored by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, took place days after the first U.S. presidential debate. When asked about the Iranian nuclear deal, the two candidates expressed diametrically opposed points of view.

Republican hopeful Donald Trump called it a disaster, while Hillary Clinton said it's a great deal. Her views are closely aligned with the Obama administration.

According to Solomon, President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry convinced themselves another war was inevitable. Talk in the White House in 2009 was that Israel was going to attack Iran's nuclear facilities. There was a push to restrain Israel.

"I do not for a second doubt there would have been a war without this deal," Kerry later said.

Solomon says Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Ayatollah Khamenei basically got what he wanted.

"What was an economic crisis could have become a national security crisis for Iran," he explained. The sanctions were taking their toll on Iran's economy.

Insofar as the deal's restraints, Solomon says the Iranians are basically doing what they want – modifying and improving centrifuge machines and working on their missile program, among other things.

"The Revolutionary Guards dominate the economy and security apparatus inside Iran," he explained. "They've very much consolidated the economic and security apparatus in those institutions."

And they're aligned with Khamenei and his oligarchy. Solomon believes we're seeing the fruits of closed-door diplomacy between the United States and Iran. He was the first reporter to reveal the secret talks between the two nations.

At the beginning of the Obama administration in 2009, U.S. foreign policy was "being tethered to Iran." Obama wrote five secret letters to the Iranians in which he said the United States was not seeking a regime change.

From 2008, Solomon saw what he describes as "somewhat of an obsession for Obama to reach out to Iran." He believes the president's worldview intuitively exposed him to that thinking. We can change this nuclear crisis peacefully, Obama allegedly wrote, while acknowledging past U.S. mistakes.

Solomon's book also documents the Obama administration's decisions regarding Syria and how it played into the cat-and-mouse game over economic sanctions against Iran.

"Looking ahead was very much of a political bet," he says. "Restrain the program for 10-15 years and maybe the leader will die and you'll have a more moderate program."

Solomon believes the "crisis is just going to kind of repeat itself." He doesn't think the outcome of the U.S. election will make much difference.

"My estimation is whether it's Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, we won't see anything change," he said.

In fact he predicts the United States and Israel may work together again after the election to scrutinize the deal much more closely than it has been.

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