Kissinger: Return to Iran deal could spark Middle East nuclear arms race

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The new US administration should not return to the spirit of the Iran deal, which could spark an arms race in the Middle East, former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger said Monday at a Jewish People Policy Institute online conference.He criticized the 2015 Iran deal, which President Donald Trump left in 2018. President-elect Joe Biden seeks to return to it if Iran agrees to comply again with the agreement’s limitations on its nuclear program.“We should not fool ourselves,” the 97-year-old diplomat, consultant and author said. “I don’t believe that the spirit [of the Iran deal], with a time limit and so many escape clauses, will do anything other than bring nuclear weapons all over the Middle East and therefore create a situation of latent tension that sooner or later will break out.”The current leaders in Iran “don’t seem to find it possible to give up this combination of Islamist imperialism and threat,” Kissinger said. “The test case is the evolution of nuclear capacities in Iran, if these can be avoided.”“I do not say we shouldn’t talk to them,” he added.Dennis Ross, a former adviser to presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, interviewed Kissinger at the JPPI farewell event for its founding director, Avinoam Bar-Yosef.Ross asked Kissinger what he would advise Biden and his administration to do to take advantage of the Abraham Accords, in which four Arab states normalized ties with Israel.

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“We should not give up on what has recently been achieved in these agreements between the Arab world and the Israeli world,” he said. “I would tell the incoming administration that we are on a good course.”The accords “have opened a window of opportunity for a new Middle East,” Kissinger said. “Arab countries understood that they could not survive in constant tension with parts of the West and with Israel, so they decided they had to take care of themselves.”Normalizations with Israel show that the four states taking part “have come to the conclusion that their national interests transcend their ideological interests,” said the secretary of state and national security advisor to presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford in the 1970s. “So they have decided, and Israel has advocated, that they should pursue their interests and come together, and they will take into account Arab concerns where they clash.”That idea “has worked out very well,” Kissinger said, adding that he always opposed the idea of finding “all-out solutions” to peace in the Middle East, advocating for the US “to work out the solutions that we can because they can build on themselves.”The Palestinians need to give up on their “ultimate aims” and look for possible interim achievements, Kissinger said.Bar-Yosef is leaving the JPPI after 18 years as president and founding director. The institute formulates policy recommendations for the government of Israel and Jewish organizations in areas such as Jewish identity, religion and state in Israel, fighting antisemitism and Jewish demographic trends.His successor is Yedidia Stern, a law professor at Bar-Ilan University and longtime senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute.