Despite apparent progress in talks with Iran, the United States should keep pushing for new sanctions that would further cripple the nation’s economy, eventually persuade the country to give up its nuclear ambitions, Israel’s ambassador to the United States said in Atlanta Thursday.
“What makes a difference is that they have a freight train of sanctions that are coming right at them, and that’s the chance we have to peacefully resolve this,” Ron Dermer said at the annual Fran Eizenstat and Eizenstat Lecture Series, his first public speech since presenting his credentials to President Obama two weeks ago.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Obama showed signs of doing just the opposite, threatening to veto a bipartisan Senate bill that would activate strict new sanctions if Iran violates an interim deal on sanctions relief reached by the world powers and Tehran in Geneva in November.
They would also kick in if it takes more than a year to reach a comprehensive deal on curbing Iran’s nuclear program, according to the Wall Street Journal.
While some have argued that the sanctions have worked by bringing Iran to the table, Mr. Dermer said Iran’s apparent change of heart is just a sign that the sanctions are starting to “bite,” costing the country $100 billion in the last two years, or about 20 percent of its economic output.
“Iran is not going to walk way, ladies and gentleman. The deal on the table for them is too good. They need to ease those sanctions. Remember something: Iran needs a deal. You want a deal. Don’t act as if you’re desperate to get a deal with Iran, because these guys are very, very good negotiators,” said Mr. Dermer, a Florida native whose brother and father both served as mayor of Miami Beach, Fla.
And Israel believes that the threat of sanctions persist well into the future, because banks and businesses under the recent deal will begin to find a way to skirt the existing rules.
Mr. Dermer sarcastically denounced Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Sharif’s two-hour PowerPoint presentation in Geneva proposing compromises Iran is willing to make to resolve the impasse over its nuclear program, which it insists is being developed for for peaceful purposes.
Calling Mr. Sharif a “lawyer for a bunch of murderers,” Mr. Dermer said Israel wouldn’t be impressed by the foreign minister’s English abilities and use of software.
“Here’s the problem: the power points in Iran are the revolutionary guard and the so-called supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameini,” Mr. Dermer said.
No matter what Iran’s diplomats and even its president are saying, Khameini’s regime can’t be considered trustworthy after calling for the destruction of Israel and continually misleading the international community about its nuclear program, Mr. Dermer said.
He called Iran “the worst regime of the 21st century”, snidely joking that he didn’t want to offend any North Koreans in the room. He held a variety of offenses against Iran: sponsoring terrorist attacks around the world, backing militant regimes throughout the Middle East and killing hundreds of protesters after disputed elections in 2009.
The Iran problem is not an issue of communication, Mr. Dermer said. While Iran wants a bomb, the international community doesn’t want it to have one, and something has to give.
“One side is going to win, and one side is going to lose. The halfway point between having a bomb and not having a bomb is not half a bomb. You’re either going to force them to ” said Mr. Dermer, who at 42 years old is one of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s closest advisers.
Speaking at Ahavath Achim Synagogue on Peachtree Battle Avenue, Mr. Dermer evoked the memory of the American civil rights movement, urging Americans not to be too short-sighted in their quest to see Iran crack.
“Don’t believe that what seems impossible today will not become possible tomorrow,” he said.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a Dream” speech came before the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act had passed, Mr. Dermer said. Earlier in the day he had laid a wreath on the tomb of Dr. King, one of his “heroes.”
He added that Iran’s main opportunity and the regime’s biggest threat are its people, who next to Israel are the most pro-American in the region.
The Eizenstat lecture series was named for Stuart Eizenstat, former U.S. ambassador to the European Union, who has led efforts to gain retribution for $8 billion worth of property taken from Jews during the holocaust.
This year’s lecture was renamed, as it was the first since the death earlier this year of Mr. Eizenstat’s wife of 42 years, Frances, who Mr. Dermer knew growing up.
The ambassador praised her “incandescent smile,” which he said came from a “deep inner goodness.”
Though Mr. Eizenstat has served as an adviser to multiple presidents, Mr. Dermer saw his family friend in a different light.
“When I was growing up, he was simply Fran’s husband, and I have no doubt that Stu would agree with me that that’s the most impressive title he ever held,” Mr. Dermer said.
Previous Eizenstat lecturers include President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel and many more diplomats and dignitaries over the last 26 years.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Mr. Dermer was mayor of Miami Beach, Fla.