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PAGE 12A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, DECEMBER 14, 2012 By Sean Savage JNS .org While it has been overshad- owed by a number of other Middle East issues ranging from Gaza to Egypt to Syria as 2012 winds down, the growing Iranian nuclear program still looms large over the region, and recent signs indicate that the issue mightfinally come to a resolution in 2013--peace- fully or not. According to the Nov. 16 quarterly report of the In- ternational Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog group, Iran's work on the deep underground nuclear site--Fordo, near the holy city of Qom--is nearly complete. The site now has the full nuclear capacity of 2,784 centrifuges, an increase of 644 since the previous IAEAreport in August. Iran expert Ilan Berman, vice president of the Ameri- can Foreign Policy Council (AFPC), told JNS.org that the latest report "confirms that the nuclear program is con- tinuing and maturing." The November IAEA report said only 696 of the 2,784 Fordo centrifuges are actually enriching uranium. Berman, however, warned that while the regime appears to be moving a bit slower on enrich- ment, it could "weaponize" at any time. If Iran does "weaponize," how powerful would its bomb be? Computer simulations run by Iranian scientists reveal a nuclear weapon with more than three times the power of the bomb America dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, during World War II, the Associated Press reported Nov. 28. The AP cited a diagram it obtained from anonymous officials featuring a bell curve whose highest point is 50 kilotons (a measurement unit indicating nuclear force), compared with the Hiroshima bomb's power of 15 kilotons. Many experts are also con- cerned with Iran's refusal to allow IAEA inspectors into the Parchin military complex. The IAEA believes that Iran may have conducted "explosives tests" as part of its nuclear program at the site, its report said. Satellite photographs indicate that Iran has been working quickly to clean the site up, while delaying the IAEA's access. In addition to its nuclear activities, Iran has also been working to develop its ballistic missile program. According to the U.S. Institute of Peace, Iran has the largest and most diverse ballistic missile arsenal in the Middle East. Nanking2012/Wikimedia Commons The Arak IR-40 heavy water reactor in lran. Currently, Iran possesses the capability to strike anywhere in the region, including Israel. Iran is also working to develop its solid fuel missile capable of being fired within minutes. known as the Sajjil missiles. According to experts, the Sajjil missile class is the most likely missile to be paired with a nuclear weapon. Despite these develop- ments, U.S. President Barack Obama remains confident in diplomacy. In a White House news conference in mid- November, Obama reiterated that sentiment. "I very much want to see a diplomatic resolution to the problem," Obama said. Obama added that in the coming months, he will push to renew dialogue, which has been stalled since the last round of nuclear talks in June. "I will try to make a push in the coming months to see if we can open up a dialogue between Iran and not just us, but the international com- munity to see if we can get this thing resolved," he said. Obama's push toward re- starting diplomacy may be the reason why the administration was quietly opposed to the lat- est round of sanctions target- ing Iran's energy and shipping sectors, approved by the U.S. Senate on Nov. 30. A National Security Coun- cil memo issued before the vote said the sanctions were "unnecessary, duplicative and threaten to confuse and undermine provisions in cur- rent law," according to the AP. "There's an appetitive for talks within the [Obama] administration. The admin- istration is still very much in the mode for diplomacy," Berman said. One of the reasons why diplomacy is still a viable option is the dramatic effect sanctions have had on the Iranian economy. In October, Iran's currency, which had al- ready been declining for years, plummeted nearly 40 percent. Meanwhile, a powerful European and American oil embargo has forced Iranian oil output to its lowest monthly levels in decades, significantly curtailing exports as well, ac- cording to the International Energy Agency and the U.S. Energy Information Admin- istration. As a result of the pressure, there are signs that Iran is ready to return to negotia- tions. The New York Times re- ported before the Nov. 6 U.S. elections that the U.S. and Iran were prepared to enter bilat- eral talks. Both sides quickly denied the report. Nevertheless, Israeli-Ira- nian expert Meir Javedanfar, author of The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran: Mahmoud Ahma- dinejad and the State of Iran, told JNS.org that he thinks the majority of regime officials in Iran are coming around to the idea of talks with the U.S. "More people in the Iranian regime are coming to that conclusion. Keeping the status quo could be very costly for the regime," Javedanfar said. However, Javedanfar point- ed out that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei re- mains strongly opposed to dialogue. "The revolution has been a failure, one of the last things that he [Khamenei] has is the American hatred," Javedanfar said."Ifhe shows any compro- mise over the nuclear issue, that sends signs of weakness and America might for ask for more." Nevertheless, Javedanfar is optimistic that the current impassewill bebroken, saying he feels the U.S. will make a "major offer" sometime in 2013 that could pressure Iran into brokering a deal on American terms. For now, despite signs of cracking within the Iranian regime, it remains to be seen whether or not the regime is fully prepared to resolve the nuclear issue peacefully. "Nothing is more important to the Iranian regime than its survival," Javedanfar added. By Ron Kampeas WASHINGTON (JTA)--The very quality that helped get Susan Rice in hot water with some in Washington is what pro-Israel groups have come to appreciate--she is a vigor- ous and reliable defender of the Obama administration's foreign policies. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who is widely seen as a leading can- didate to replace Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, has garnered plaudits from Jewish communal leaders over her defenses of Israel at the world body. "She has proven herself as an ardent defender of major Israeli positions in an un- friendly forum," saidAbraham Foxman, theAnti-Defamation League's national director. "And I'm more comfortable with the person I know than the person I don't know. She is close to the president and that's important in that posi- tion if you have someone you can relate to and understands US." If Obama nominates Rice, however, she would likely face opposition from Senate Republicans. She has been under fire from Republicans since Sep- tember, when she blitzed Sunday talk shows with what turned out to be misleading information prepared by intel- ligence agencies suggesting that a deadly attack on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Libya began with a spontaneous protest. Media reports have suggested that Rice had been eager to go on the talk show circuit to defend the administration, which was facing strong criticism from Republicans over its handling of the attack and its public ex- planations of what happened. President Obama has vigor- ously defended Rice, although he has not said whom he will nominate to succeed Clinton when she steps down early next year. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the 2004 Demo- cratic presidential nominee, also is considered a leading contender, while several other names of potential nominees have been cited in media reports. Rice, 48, began her ca- reer as a youthful protege of Madeleine Albright, who served as secretary of state under President Bill Clinton. Albright landed Rice an influential position on the National Security Council as Africa adviser. Rice has been a key player in pitching Obama's foreign policy, notably using friend- ships forged at the United Nations--particularly with Vitaly Churkin, the Rus- sian ambassador--to create space for some of Obama's key international initiatives. These have included enhanced sanctions targeting Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program and the effort that helped topple Libyan dictator Muammar Gadhafi last year. Ablunt and forceful speaker in private--she once famously gave the finger to diplomat Richard Holbrooke during a staff meeting when both were serving in the Clinton administration--Rice has bonded with the president over basketball, a shared passion. Jewish groups see Rice's trajectory at the United Na- tions-from tussles over Israel's settlements and mem- bership on the Human Rights Council at the outset of her term four years ago to close cooperation more recently-- as reflective of the Obama administration's evolving approach to Israel. "One thing important to point out is that the votes have reflected administration pol- icy," said Daniel Mariaschin, B'nai B'rith International's executive vice president. By contrast, he said, a secretary of state is more a shaper of policy than just its messenger. Still, Mariaschin said, Rice as U.N. ambassador has dem- onstrated an understanding of Israel's difficulties in the international arena. "There are ways of explain- ing your vote and ways of explaining your vote," he said. Mariaschin noted that Rice's explanation of the U.S. "no" vote last week when the U.N. General Assembly elevated Palestine to non-member state status incorporated many of the talking points conveyed to her by pro-Israel groups. "She made kind of a good end to an otherwise disap- pointing day," Mariaschin said. Rice in her post-vote expla- nation was dismissive of what- ever hopes that the lopsided vote--138 for, 9 against and41 abstentions--might have en- gendered for the Palestinians. "Today's grand pronounce- ments will soon fade," she said, "and the Palestinian people will wake up tomorrow and find that little about their lives has changed, save that the prospects of a durable peace have only receded." Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of MajorAmerican Jewish Orga- nizations, said Rice routinely meets with Jewish groups. "We had a meeting right before the General Assembly, and we covered the wide range of prospects," Hoenlein said."I can't say there were big areas of disagreement--and where there might have been, she's always been forthright and honest." Some Jewish conservatives, however, have warned against Rice being elevated to secre- tary of state, citing disagree- ments related to Israel from the first part of Obama's first term. They have criticized Rice over the U.S. decision to join the U.N. Human Rights Council, a body that has disproportionately tar- geted Israel for criticism, and over her criticism of Israel's settlements in explanatory remarks after the U.S. vetoed a Security Council resolution in February 2011 that would have condemned Israel for its settlement policy. A Nov. 29 Op-Ed in The Wall Street Journal by Anne Bayefsky, who directs Touro College's Institute of Human Rights and the Holocaust, and Michael Mukasey, who served as attorney general under President George W. Bush, noted two issues, among others, in questioning her "moral fitness" for the job of secretary of state. "Though the president, not the U.N. ambassador, makes foreign policy, one is entitled to ask how a Secretary Rice would view the acts and omis- sions of Ambassador Rice," they wrote. Foxman was furious with the Bayefsky-Mukasey Op-Ed, saying it was an unseemly at- tempt to drag the Jewish com- munity into a political fight. "People may differaboutthe effectiveness of certain tactics or, as we have often done, even seriously question whether bodies like the U.N. Human Rights Council will ever give Israel a fair hearing," he wrote in a letter to the Journal that it has not published. "But no one should use the U.N.'s anti-Israel record to cast as- U.N. Photo/Paulo Filgueiras Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, talking to journalists about the crisis in Gaza, Nov. 21. Rice, who reportedly is being considered for secretary of state, has earned plaudits from Jewish groups for her U.N. role. persions on Ambassador Rice. She has earned her reputa- tion as a fighter for Israel's equality in a hostile forum where an automatic majority reflexively expresses its bias against Israel." David Harris, the American Jewish Committee's executive director, said he had come around to the ideathatjoining the Human Rights Council was a reasonable decision after having earlier opposed the move. "The decision to go back in was understandable," Harris said, adding that in retrospect, he accepts that "the deter- mination that influence was probably best achieved from inside rather than outside." Regarding the speech on settlements, leaders of Jew- ish groups said that Rice was reflecting the policy of the Obamaadministration, which later retreated considerably from its approach of pub- licly criticizing Israel over its settlement policy. "It was a concern at the time, but in the context of this question, was this a decision that Susan Rice made or was this a speech made by the Obama ad- ministration and that she had to carry out?" Harris said. "U.S. ambassadors, when they speak on issues of importance, don't do so without full consultation with the administration."