When it comes to the nuclear threat from Tehran, there’s a growing gulf between Washington and Jerusalem.
- By Bruce StokesBruce Stokes is director of global economic attitudes at the Pew Research Center.
As negotiators convene in Geneva in an effort to reach agreement on curbing Iran’s nuclear program, the American people are supportive of a deal, even though they are fairly cynical about the likelihood of it working. And their support may put them at odds with the Israelis, their long-time regional allies, portending possible further disagreements between Jerusalem and Washington in the months ahead.
Moreover, Americans are divided along partisan lines on the way forward with Iran. Younger Americans are even more likely to differ with Israelis about Iran, suggesting disagreements over Tehran’s nuclear program may be with us for some time to come.
Americans back an interim accord with Tehran that would impede the Iranian nuclear program and set the stage for a final deal that may even roll back that program. A strong majority (64 percent) say the United States and other countries should lift some of their economic sanctions against Iran, in exchange for Tehran restricting its nuclear program in a way that makes it harder for it to produce nuclear weapons, according to a new Washington Post/ABC News survey. But roughly six in ten Americans (61 percent) also have little or no confidence that such an agreement would actually prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons.
Perhaps not surprisingly, given the nature of partisanship today, Republicans and Democrats are split over a prospective Iranian deal: 72 percent of Democrats support such an accord, while only 57 percent of Republicans agree. And 70 percent of Republicans compared with 50 percent of Democrats lack confidence that this agreement would keep Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Meanwhile, the prospect of a deal in Geneva has generated new friction between Israel and the United States. The Obama administration wants to prevent the Iranians from ever obtaining nuclear weapons. The Israeli government wants to prevent Iran from ever having the ability to build such weapons. And Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is pressing Washington not to finalize the deal now on the table in Geneva.
American-Israeli differences at an official level in part mirror disagreement between their respective publics. Three-quarters of Israelis have a very unfavorable view of Iran, while only 42 percent of Americans share such strong negative sentiments, according to a Pew Research Center survey in spring 2013. The next generation of Americans, those currently between the ages of 18 and 29, are even less likely to see Tehran in a negative light. Just 25 percent have a very unfavorable opinion of Iran. (And that’s before the election of President Hassan Rouhani and his public softening to the West.)
There’s also a critical difference between the United States and Jerusalem when it comes to the immediacy of the nuclear threat from Tehran. While 85 percent of Israelis say that Iran’s nuclear program poses a major threat to Israel, only 54 percent of Americans worry that Tehran’s nuclear activities pose a major threat to the United States, including only 42 percent of the younger generation of Americans.
Nevertheless, Americans (93 percent) and Israelis (96 percent) do agree that Iran should not acquire nuclear weapons. And, of the vast majority of both populations that oppose Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, 68 percent of Israelis and 64 percent of Americans would support the use of military force to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
An Iran agreement eluded negotiators in Geneva in early November, and there is no assurance an interim accord can be concluded in the round of talks going on now. But if a deal is struck, the American public appears willing to back it, even if they aren’t so sure an effective permanent deal is in the offing. Americans differences with Israelis, however, suggest that discord between Jerusalem and Washington over Iran may persist.
Colum Lynch is Foreign Policy's award-winning U.N.-based senior diplomatic reporter. Lynch previously wrote Foreign Policy's Turtle Bay blog, for which he was awarded the 2011 National Magazine Award for best reporting in digital media. He is also a recipient of the 2013 Elizabeth Neuffer Memorial Silver Prize for his coverage of the United Nations.
Before moving to Foreign Policy, Lynch reported on diplomacy and national security for the Washington Post for more than a decade. As the Washington Post's United Nations reporter, Lynch had been involved in the paper's diplomatic coverage of crises in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan, and Somalia, as well as the nuclear standoffs with Iran and North Korea. He also played a key part in the Post's diplomatic reporting on the Iraq war, the International Criminal Court, the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and U.S. counterterrorism strategy. Lynch's enterprise reporting has explored the underside of international diplomacy. His investigations have uncovered a U.S. spying operation in Iraq, Dick Cheney's former company's financial links to Saddam Hussein, and documented numerous sexual misconduct and corruption scandals.
Lynch has appeared frequently on the Lehrer News Hour, MSNBC, NPR radio, and the BBC. He has also moderated public discussions on foreign policy, including interviews with Susan E. Rice, the U.S. National Security Advisor, Gerard Araud, France's U.N. ambassador, and other senior diplomatic leaders.
Born in Los Angeles, California, Lynch received a bachelor's degree from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1985 and a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism in 1987. He previously worked for the Boston Globe.| The Cable |
Uri Friedman is deputy managing editor at Foreign Policy. Before joining FP, he reported for the Christian Science Monitor, worked on corporate strategy for Atlantic Media, helped launch the Atlantic Wire, and covered international affairs for the site. A proud native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he studied European history at the University of Pennsylvania and has lived in Barcelona, Spain and Geneva, Switzerland.| Passport |