Israel’s ambassador to the United States told a Bethesda audience this week that the greatest challenge his country faces is the potential for a nuclear-armed Iran. He called on the United States, the European Union and Germany to “fix” the 2015 agreement that limited that potential.
Ron Dermer, speaking Tuesday at Congregation Beth El of Montgomery County, said he supports President Donald Trump’s decision not to renew his certification that Iran is complying with the deal.
“President Trump showed real leadership in the decision that he made, because this was a can he could have kicked down the road,” he said. “There is no choice on the menu today to keep the deal as it is. There’s only two options: you either fix this thing or President Trump will terminate it.”
Dermer said he wanted the agreement to be changed to eliminate the sunset clauses on Iran’s nuclear enrichment program, to expand the number of sites the U.N. inspectors can visit in Iran, and for Iran to eliminate its ballistic missile capability.
The agreement, signed in 2015 by the United States, Iran, Russia, China, Germany and the European Union, seeks to roll back Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of sanctions.
Dermer said accomplishing these tasks is possible with the cooperation of Congress and the European members of the U.N. Security Council, but he said it is unlikely Russia and China would agree to alter the deal. The ambassador said the countries should take notice of the fact that Israel and Saudi Arabia both oppose the agreement.
“People have good intentions who have a different view of that deal,” he said. “But the people sitting in Jerusalem and the people sitting in Riyadh, we see things differently. And if Israelis and Arabs are saying the same thing, pay attention. That’s the no spin zone.”
Dermer also defended Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress in March 2015 in which he warned against voting in favor of the agreement.
Dermer said the feeling that Americans had after 9/11 was the one Israelis must live with every day.
“It’s life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in that order, and Israel has been living in 9/12 for 69 years,” he said.
That resonated strongly with Bethesda resident Paul Weinberg. He said failed attempts at diplomacy between the United States and Iran are similar to the relationship between the United States and North Korea.
“I think [the deal means] kicking the can down the road, much like what’s happened with North Korea,” he said.
Weinberg’s friend, Kensington resident Steve Marks, said he recognizes the partisan divisions that have formed over the agreement and other issues concerning Israel, but thinks Americans should look at the bigger picture when it comes to U.S.-Israel relations.
“I think you can get lost in the specific policies, but when you look at Israel as a country and see the challenges it faces every day you get a different perspective on what the relationship has been,” he said.
Bethesda resident Raya Blumenthal agreed that the Iran deal was a concern, but was not pleased with Dermer’s praise Netanyahu.
“There was absolutely no critique about Netanyahu, and that bothered me,” she said.
Dermer declined to take questions from Washington Jewish Week.