Marco Rubio decides to run for reelection, citing intention to kill Iran deal


Sen. Marco Rubio cited his intention to kill the Iran nuclear deal in his decision to run for reelection to the Senate.

The Florida Republican, first elected in 2010, opted out of running to keep his seat when he announced his candidacy last year for the Republican presidential nomination. He was driven out of that race this year by Donald Trump, who defeated Rubio in his home state primary and is now the presumptive nominee.

But on Wednesday, Rubio reversed his decision and said he would run, citing the Iran sanctions relief for nuclear rollback deal, which he had pledged as president to tear up.

“Control of the Senate may very well come down to the race in Florida,” Rubio said in his statement. “That means the future of the Supreme Court will be determined by the Florida Senate seat. It means the future of the disastrous Iran nuclear deal will be determined by the Florida Senate seat. It means the direction of our country’s fiscal and economic policies will be determined by this Senate seat. The stakes for our nation could not be higher.”

During his running for president, Rubio derided the Senate as do-nothing, a position his opponent is likely to use against him. He acknowledged as much in his statement.

“Have at it,” he wrote. “Because I have never claimed to be perfect or to have all the answers.”

Major Republican Party figures – including Trump, who had viciously derided Rubio as “little” and ineffective during the primaries – urged him to run for reelection in the state in a year in which Democrats are expected to perform well and could well take control of the Senate.

Rubio said he was running in part to keep Trump in check should he be elected president. Trump has alienated mainstream Republicans with his broadsides against Mexicans and Muslims and his at times crude language. Rubio, after dropping out of the presidential race, endorsed him, but with qualifications.

“The prospect of a Trump presidency is also worrisome to me,” Rubio said in his statement. “It is no secret that I have significant disagreements with Donald Trump. His positions on many key issues are still unknown. And some of his statements, especially about women and minorities, I find not just offensive but unacceptable.”

It is not clear how Rubio believes his vote in the Senate could reverse the Iran deal. The most straightforward American exit from the deal would be through a presidential executive order, which is not dependent on Congress. A congressional bid to kill the deal would require a super-majority of 60 in the Senate, something Republicans are unlikely to secure.

Should Rubio win the GOP primary in August, he will face either Rep. Patrick Murphy or Rep. Alan Grayson, who are in a bitter race for the Democratic nomination. Murphy has the backing of the party establishment, while Grayson, who is Jewish, is running an insurgent campaign from the left based on the campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Jewish Independent from Vermont who ran a surprisingly tough campaign against Hillary Clinton, now the presumptive Democratic nominee.

The political action committee associated with J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group, is backing Murphy, and seized upon Rubio’s announcement to raise funds for its candidate.

“The Senate’s leading neocon is running for another Senate term,” the committee said in an email.

The JStreetPAC email listed Rubio’s transgressions against liberal Jewish orthodoxies, including his pledge to tear up the Iran deal and his harsh criticisms of President Barack Obama, and noted his grudging endorsement of Trump.

“This is the same Marco Rubio who endorsed Donald Trump,” the email said. “Seriously, he endorsed Donald Trump.”

Palestinians show lukewarm reaction to Obama’s re-election


Palestinians reacted lukewarmly to the news of President Barack Obama’s re-election for a second term, saying they are not hopeful this will improve their situation.

On the political level, Palestinian officials called upon Obama to help in peace efforts.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas congratulated Obama on his reelection.  In a statement published by WAFA, the official Palestinian news agency, Abbas said he hoped that Obama “continues his efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East.”

In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told The Media Line that this is a new phase. “Hamas calls upon Obama to re-evaluate his external policies that are biased toward the Israeli occupation,” he said, adding that any change in the Palestinian and Arabic mood is contingent upon the reshuffling of American foreign policies toward the Middle East.

Direct peace talks between the Palestinians and Israel have been frozen since September 2010, after Palestinians demanded a freeze in the construction of West Bank Jewish communities as a basis for negotiations.

The Palestinian president’s diplomatic advisor, Majdi Al-Khaldi, told The Media Line that he hopes the new administration will support the Palestinians’ and Israelis’ return to negotiations after the United Nations General Assembly votes on a Palestinian proposal to recognize Palestine as a non-member UN state.

<div style=”float:right;padding-left:15px;padding-top:10px;padding-bottom:10px;”><div style=”border: 1px solid black;padding:7px;” ><a href=”http://www.themedialine.org” target=”_blank”><img src=”http://www.jewishjournal.com/images/themedialine-160-7-11.jpg” /></a></div></div>“Unfortunately, the Palestinian leadership was forced to take other diplomatic and political measures to maintain the two-state solution and prove our rights in any future negations,” he added.

Khaldi said that two things have not changed: “The Israeli government is still the same, and the American Congress still has a Republican majority.”

The only difference, according to Khaldi, is that this administration might have better experience in dealing with the Palestinian-Israeli issue.

Al-Quds University Media and Politics professor Ahmed Rafiq Awad told The Media Line that he does not expect any dramatic changes in the United States’ foreign policy, “When Obama tried to get involved in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, he had to pay a high price because of the Jewish and Zionist lobby in America. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also offended him a couple of times,” he added.

In the main streets of Ramallah, where Palestinian Authority employees still haven’t received their salaries as the financial crisis facing the PA deepens, most of those interviewed by The Media Line on Wednesday believed Obama is better than the Republican candidate Mitt Romney, but will not bring a change to their lives.  

 “He will not offer anything new to us because of the Congress pressure on him, but at least for us as Palestinians, Obama is better for us than Romney,” PA employee Mervat Daraghmeh said.

Muna Ali, a housewife, also agreed: “We have a saying in Arabic that goes: Those who you know are better than the ones you don’t.”

“Romney is a Zionist, he wanted to suffocate us like George [W.] Bush did”, Kamel Nayaf, a retired artist said as he strolled with his wife. She agreed with him: “Maybe he will be more active in the second term. We are not optimistic, but we are hopeful that he will improve the situation here,” she said.

In a shop close to Al-Manara Square, Sufyan Adawi, a moneychanger, told The Media Line that Palestinians understood that American foreign policies are linked to the United States’ interests in the region and are not based on moral and humane grounds, “but we hope the nonexistence of a third term will make him [Obama] less afraid of the Zionist lobby.”

Some Palestinians hope a second term for Obama could lead to a change in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, as the president will not be concerned with reelection.

However, political analyst Awad ruled out this possibility: “The American president knows he might be less free from the influence of the Zionist lobby, but America is run by institutions such as the army, intelligence and Congress, which limits the ability of Obama as an individual.”  

Abd El Kader Hassan, a public transportation driver, believes the American election results will not change the Palestinians’ conditions: “One is black, and the other is white. This is the only difference,” he said.

“I don’t follow the news,” said Mohammed Rasem, taking a pause from calling out to customers to buy from his cart full of socks and underwear. Two other young women in their early 20s told The Media Line they didn’t know the election had taken place.

Nidal Arar, a cab driver from Ramallah, said he was pro-Obama: “He didn’t get involved in wars like Bush did in Iraq, and he’s a good man,” he said.

Awad told The Media Line he believes Obama will focus on internal American polices and expects Obama to reach out for China and Russia instead of the Middle East.

“The only way for American involvement in the region is through regional pressure exerted by the Arab and Islamic states by threatening America’s interests in the Middle East ,” Awad added.

Obama victory opens window for negotiation with Iran


The re-election of Barack Obama may open an opportunity for new negotiations with Iran on its nuclear program as sanctions pile economic pressure on its theocratic leaders.

Having so far resisted those in the United States, and Israel, who have pushed for military action against Iran, and now with no more elections to fight, the president appears free to pursue a diplomatic settlement while wielding the threat of yet heavier commercial penalties if Tehran does not bend.

“Obama has prepared the ground very carefully and has the option of trying to cut some kind of a deal on the nuclear issue and that's worth a lot to him,” said Gary Sick, an Iran expert and former U.S. national security official.

Last month, the White House said the option of bilateral talks with Iran, with whom Washington has not had diplomatic relations for three decades, was under consideration.

The Western powers, and Israel, accuse Iran of secretly preparing to build nuclear weapons while working on a program which Tehran insists is purely designed for civil purposes.

Tehran's reaction to Obama's re-election was predictably critical and warned that Washington should not expect to establish a new relationship with Tehran quickly: “After all this pressure and crimes against the people of Iran, relations with America cannot be possible overnight and Americans should not think they can hold our nation to ransom by coming to the negotiating table,” judiciary head Sadeq Larijani said.

But there are indications Iran's leadership views Obama's continued presence as preferable to the arrival of Romney, who some saw as more likely to cooperate with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a possible military strike on Iran.

“Obama's people are a known quantity. Iran's leaders know Obama has held the Israelis back from launching a military attack,” said Scott Lucas of the EA Worldview news website which specializes in covering Iran. “They didn't know what they were getting with Romney and they were a little fearful.”

In a revealing speech in Tehran last week, Iran's former envoy to Paris and the United Nations, Sadeq Kharrazi, praised Obama for his efforts in “reducing tensions between Islam and the West” and trying to “move closer to Iran”.

SANCTIONS

Obama started his presidency in 2009 with diplomatic overtures to Tehran but successive rounds of sanctions imposed by Washington and the European Union have cut Iranian oil revenues and sharpened quarrels between factions.

“Obama was a tough president for Iran's hardliners, because he exposed them as the problem. His … efforts to engage Iran accentuated Tehran's internal divisions, and created greater international unity,” said Karim Sadjadpour, associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington

His administration now has a window to pursue talks with Iran, although campaigning for next year's Iranian presidential election could close that down in a few months time.

Israel, too, appears less poised to strike and sees talks between its main ally and Iran as possible:

“Obama, certainly in the short term, will be much more effective, because he already has a formulated policy,” Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told Israeli television. “There could be direct negotiations with Iran.”

Talks are expected to resume between Iran and the P5+1 group – the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany – in November or December after the process stalled in June and there have been signs that Iran's most powerful figure, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, may be ready to move forward.

Negotiations have focused on conditions under which Iran might hold back its enrichment of uranium.

“The chances of getting negotiations up and running are much better with Obama and he's likely to go for that,” said one Western diplomat based in Tehran. “The clock is ticking and we need to get it sorted. If the Iranians are looking for a way to climb down, this is a good chance.”

Nonetheless, there is deep mistrust all round. Washington and its allies accuse Iranian negotiators of playing for time to meet further their program and strengthen their position. Iran has accused the West of double standards by negotiating while imposing further punitive measures on it.

“In the past Iran has made steps towards rapprochement and the Americans have retaliated by increasing sanctions,” said Mohammad Marandi of Tehran University. “There is explicit anger over the attempts to wreck the economy and prevent imports of foodstuffs and medicine which hurts ordinary people.”

Many blame sanctions which have all but isolated Iran from the international banking system but they also point the finger at President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for failed economic policies. Some Iranians expressed relief that Obama secured a second term.

“We hate the policies of the U.S. and Israel, but Obama's policies are wiser. The only chance we have for the situation not to get worse was an Obama victory,” said Tehran filmmaker Amin, one of several Iranians contacted by Reuters from Dubai.

Many had feared that under Romney the risk of being attacked would have risen and that Washington would have intervened in the Middle East as it did under Obama's Republican predecessor George W. Bush. Among them was 32-year-old dissident journalist Mira: “Iranians,” she said, “Believe war would be destructive and would catapult the region two or three decades back.”

Additional reporting by Yeganeh Torbati in Dubai and Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Writing by Marcus George; Editing by Alastair Macdonald

GOP’s Tough Task


The race for the Democratic presidential nomination has taken a fateful turn in the past several weeks. The rise — or re-emergence — of Sen.

John Kerry of Massachusetts, the decline of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and the withdrawal of Sen. Joe Lieberman make the quadrennial dream of Republicans that Jewish voters will vote Republican more difficult to achieve.

Historically, a majority of Jewish voters have voted Democratic in presidential elections. But sometimes, that majority weakens, as it did in 1972 and 1980. The Democrats nominated candidates George McGovern and Jimmy Carter, respectively, who were perceived, rightly or wrongly, as either weak on foreign policy or less than fully supportive of Israel.

In the aftermath of Sept. 11, early polls indicated that a significant number of Jews might vote for President Bush’s reelection. To Republicans, the terrain looked promising.

The Dean and Lieberman campaigns both fit into the Republican playbook. While mostly Democrats, Jewish voters cover a wide swath ideologically, from the very liberal to the moderately conservative. From opposite sides, both Dean and Lieberman would have exposed that Democratic fault line.

Dean’s suggestion of a more “balanced” U.S. policy in the Middle East may have appealed to the most liberal Jews, but it opened up a gulf of mistrust with the more moderate Jewish Democrats. The White House could hardly restrain its glee at the thought of running against Dean, particularly among Jewish voters.

The Lieberman factor was more subtle. The conventional wisdom is that Democrats should nominate centrists. That certainly sounds like Lieberman. But Lieberman is so moderate, both ideologically and temperamentally, that he seemed more angry at Democratic liberals than at Bush. In a year that Democrats are building on a massive surge of anger at the Bush White House, soft centrism generated little interest among Democrats.

Had Lieberman emerged as a serious contender, he would have been the flip side of Dean, appealing to moderate and conservative Jews, while leaving liberals unhappy.

Instead, Democratic voters have given an imposing lead to Kerry, who is liberal enough to hold the left and moderate enough with his military background to contest the middle.

As extremely significant campaign donors, Jewish Democrats may find it easier to help Kerry than some of the other candidates. Only Dean and Kerry had the foresight and the resources to forgo public matching funds for the nomination phase. Clark and Edwards did not.

If candidates accept public funding, they also accept a limit on campaign spending. They may run out of money by the spring, and once they have spent their limit, they cannot raise or spend any more money until the convention in July.

During that period, the Bush campaign will be free to spend its more than $100 million reserve to attack the leading Democrat without response.

Dean and Kerry, however, can keep raising money up until the July convention, and either would be able to fight effectively until then.

Dean, however, has serious money problems. He ran through most of his $40 million-plus war chest to little avail in Iowa and New Hampshire, and may not look like a great investment. Kerry, by contrast, will be rolling in contributions.

There are still many pitfalls on the road for the Democratic front-runner and the eventual nominee, whomever that may be, when it comes to Jewish voters. The Democratic Party is a collection of many groups, whose attitude toward Israel varies.

President Bush offers full-throated support for Israel whenever possible, and the Democrats have to find ways to express their own support for Israel, even if it is built around different policy views than that of the White House.

The White House may have its own coalition problems to deal with. The most loyal voters in the Republican Party today are evangelical Christians. By some estimates, they support Republicans to a degree matched only by African American backing of the Democrats.

Because evangelicals have expressed an affinity for Israel in recent years, Bush has not had to make difficult choices while prospecting for Jewish votes.

Now Bush may have to make a choice between his hard-core conservative base and his hopes of reaching out to Jewish voters. All indications are that the Bush strategy from the start has been to energize his base, and with the Republicans hoping to center the campaign around their opposition to gay marriage and suspicion of “liberal intellectuals,” they are less likely to spend time worrying about socially liberal Jewish voters.

Between now and the election, the Middle East and domestic politics are likely to intrude in ways that matter deeply to Jewish voters, and both parties will have to be on their toes if they want to hold or win this critically important group.


Raphael J. Sonenshein is a political scientist at California State University, Fullerton. His column appears monthly.