President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry appear to have run the table in Middle East diplomacy. An interim nuclear agreement with Iran has been reached, Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are underway and peace talks to end Syria’s civil war are slated to begin in January.
For an administration under siege domestically, press coverage declaring the triumph of Obama diplomacy over Bush-era militarism is a political godsend.
But talk in Washington of a legacy-defining breakthrough for Obama is overstated and premature. So are the apocalyptic warnings of Iranian hegemony now coming from Jerusalem and Riyadh.
Fundamental differences must be overcome before a comprehensive nuclear pact with Iran, an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement or a Syria ceasefire can be brokered. In all three cases, the White House and Kerry ignored, avoided or fudged thorny issues — and declared success.
First of all, Kerry and the White House deserve praise for simply reaching this point. Defying deep skepticism in Washington and the region, they embarked on risky diplomatic overtures that ranged from Kerry’s quixotic public effort to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement to a secret meeting between American and Iranian officials in Oman last March.