Ukraine casts shadow over US-Israel talks on Iran; can Obama, Kerry ‘walk & chew gum at same time?’

US President Barack Obama talks on the phone in the Oval Office with Russian President Vladimir Putin about the situation in Ukraine, Saturday, March 1, 2014 (photo credit: Pete Souza/White House/Flickr )As President Obama multi-tasks, some ponder implications for halting Tehran’s nuclear program. And oh yes, solve the Israeli-Palestinian and Syrian issues too.

By Haviv Rettig Gur, TOI, March 4 2014

He’s asking us to trust him. Now we’re watching Ukraine  and wondering,” a senior member of the Israeli government told The Times of  Israel on Monday, speaking about US President Barack Obama’s response to the  Russian incursion in the Crimea this week.

The official noted that the United States has a  defense agreement with Ukraine, the 1994 Budapest Memorandum signed by President  Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin, which affirms that “The United  States of America, the Russian Federation, and the United Kingdom of Great  Britain and Northern Ireland, reaffirm their commitment to Ukraine…to respect  the Independence and Sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine.”

The Ukraine crisis “is directly related to what  happens in the Middle East,” Senator John McCain (R-AZ) told the AIPAC Policy  Conference in Washington on Tuesday. The crisis “is the ultimate result of a  feckless foreign policy where nobody believes in America’s strength anymore,” charged McCain.

That message resonates with Israeli political  leaders.

“There’s a limit to what the president [Obama] can ask  of us if America isn’t willing to stand by its promises,” the Israeli official  said.

But that concern, while it reflects continued  skepticism over American dependability on the world stage on the part of much of  the Israeli political leadership, is not necessarily shared by defense  officials. One senior Israeli defense official said the American equivocation on  Ukraine was understandable.

“We shouldn’t be too quick to apply lessons from  Ukraine to Israel,” said the official on Monday. “Crimea has been an overriding  strategic imperative for Russia for centuries. They have a military base there.  So what’s America going to do? Send troops?”

That’s a very different situation from the Israel-Iran  standoff, the official added.

McCain, too, acknowledged the lack of a military  option.”I have to be very honest with you,” he told the pro-Israel lobby  Tuesday. “There is not a military option that can be exercised now. But the most  powerful nation in the world should have plenty of options,” he insisted,  calling for personal and economic sanctions to be levied against Russia and its  leaders.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in Washington  Tuesday for talks with Obama over the Iranian nuclear issue and US-brokered  Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

The visit is marked by increasing tensions between the  two leaders, with the American leader openly chastising the Israeli government  over West Bank settlement construction and the slow pace of negotiations, while  the Netanyahu government has vociferously protested US-led nuclear talks between  Western powers and Iran.

[Reprinted from Times of Israel, emphases added.]