Soft on Iran, Hard on Israel

The New York Times has been quick to gush over the new round of negotiations in Geneva between major world powers and Iran. Reading the Times one would think that Iran suddenly has become quite reasonable about a possible deal to rein in its nuclear ambitions. The pro-Iran slant pops up in both the news pages of the Times and in its editorial page.

Let's start with Mark Landler's lengthy report about Iran's supposedly new and more forthcoming positions in the negotiations, which in his view should hold off a new batch of sanctions on Iran ("White House Weighs Easing Iran Sanctions' Bite With Slow Release of Assets" page A10, Oct. 18)

According to Landler, there now has been a "promising first round of nuclear diplomacy and the White House quite rightly is weighing ways to "ease the pain of sanctions." Landler assures Times readers that "Iranian officials were more candid and substantive than in previous diplomatic encounters." So naturally they deserve to have Congress "hold off on voting on a new bill to strangle Iran's oil exports further."

The entire slant of Landler's piece is to pump up Iran's new "positive" bona fides while depicting additional sanctions as the worst possible medicine at this juncture.

In short, Landler and the Times are enthralled by Tehran's charm offensive. Completely overlooked is the fact that there already has been a sharply negative response in Tehran -- from the Supreme Leader on down -- against any serious compromises or concessions on the nuclear front.

The Times' editorial page is even more outspoken in joining Iran's PR strategy of getting more time to continue enrichment of uranium, while snookering world powers into believing that the mullahs are ready to turn the page. ("A Thaw in Geneva? Talks between Iran, the U.S. and the major powers have been promising and upbeat" page A22, Oct. 18)

The editorial puts weight on the fact that Iran offered its own proposal to resolve the nuclear issue, "complete with Power Point presentation." That should really cinch Iran's sincerity.

And golly gee whiz, American and Iranian negotiators met privately for about an hour. Plus, there were "upbeat" remarks from American and and European officials, thoroughly approved by the New York Times.

Bottom line for the Times' editorialists. Things are so propitious on the diplomatic front that the only spoiler could be -- you guessed it -- Israel. Or as the Times puts it: "A certain patience is needed to conduct these negotiations and bring them to a constructive end. But hard-liners are already trying to undercut them. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, for instance, is warning against trusting Iran while members of Congress are threatening new and harsher sanctions."

At the Times, the watchword is: Soft on Iran, hard on Israel.

And, as if on cue, in the same edition, Times columnist Roger Cohen weighs in with a piece that depicts Netanyahu as the key holdout in peace negotiations with the Palestinians. ""If Not Now, When? If Netanyahu is inclined to take risks from strength, the time is now." Op-ed page A23)

Typically, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas's incitement campaign against Israel is brushed aside and the full burden of peacemaking is laid on Netanyahu and Israel. Cohen even has the chutzpath of chastising Bibi for ignoring Hillel's enjoinder: "If not now, when?"

Easy on the mullahs and Abbas, hard on Netanyahu and Israel.

Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers