Netanyahu, Putin sharply divided over Iran nuclear deal

PM prods Russia to insist on better deal, while Putin sounded hopeful P5+1 could come to a resolution in Geneva.

November 20, 2013 20:45
3 minute read.
Prime Minister Netanyahu and Russian Pres. Putin

Prime Minister Netanyahu and Russian Pres. Putin 370. (photo credit: Koby Gideon/GPO)

MOSCOW – Significant divisions over Iran were on clear display in the Kremlin on Wednesday as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin issued statements after nearly two hours of meetings.

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Standing side by side in a marble pillared room, Putin said he hoped the talks between the P5+1 and Iran that began Wednesday in Geneva would succeed, while Netanyahu reiterated his position that the international community should insist upon a much better deal.

“We hope in the near future a deal will be announced [that is] acceptable to all the sides,” Putin said as Netanyahu – who has lobbied intensively against such a deal emerging from Geneva – looked on.

Putin, in turn, stood expressionless as Netanyahu repeated what he has been saying for weeks – that the deal on the table will not be enough to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons march.

“For us, for Israel, the biggest threat to us and the security of the world is Iran’s attempts to gain nuclear arms,” he said at a press conference that was all business, without a trace of lightness or levity.

Netanyahu said both Russia and Israel share the goal of preventing Iran from getting a bomb, and then he spelled out Israel’s position without criticizing Russia’s position.

Israel’s position, he said, was that the “international community needed to stand firmly by positions articulated in UN Security Council decisions; that is, Iran must stop all uranium enrichment, transfer out its stockpiles of enriched uranium, dismantle the centrifuges and stop building of the [heavy water reactor] at Arak.”

Rather than criticizing Putin for Russia’s position on the matter, he praised the Russian leader for facilitating the accord to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons, and then said that the same formula should now be used regarding Iran.

“I think there is a lot to learn from the way the solution was reached in Syria,” he said. “There Russia and others justifiably stood firm on the full dismantling of Syria’s chemical weapons. I want to congratulate you on the important role you played in reaching that agreement, and of course we must now ensure that it is implemented.”

Netanyahu said the international community would not have accepted an agreement in Syria whereby Damascus would reduce by just a little its chemical weapons arsenal, while keeping the remainder of its stockpiles in place and retaining the ability to produce more.

Netanyahu said a similar situation should not be allowed to emerge in Iran, and that Israel believes “a better agreement can be reached, and that demands determination and stubbornness.”

Such an agreement, he said, could lead to a dismantling of the Iranian nuclear project, in the same way that it led to the dismantling of Syria’s weapons of massdestruction.

The different focus of the two leaders was also apparent in the order in which they related to the Iranian issue in their remarks.

Putin left the issue to the very end, after discussing everything from Israeli-Russian trade and cooperation in space, agriculture, and the arts, while Netanyahu delved into the issue higher up in his statement and devoted significantly more time to it.

Netanyahu met Putin shortly after landing in Moscow Wednesday afternoon, his fifth visit since becoming prime minister for a second time in 2009.

Uncharacteristically, Netanyahu did not speak to the press on the flight over, nor did he give any statements upon leaving Tel Aviv or arriving in Moscow.

Russia has the closest relationship with Iran among the P5+1 states negotiating with Tehran.

Netanyahu arrived in Moscow at a time when Putin’s stature in the Middle East and the international community has risen because of the deal he brokered to get Syrian President Bashar Assad to dismantle his chemical weapons.

Netanyahu’s visit was planned well before the Geneva talks were scheduled, but the fact that they took place on the same day gave the meeting an added urgency.

Netanyahu first met with Putinandtwotop advisers from both sides, followed by a one-on-one discussion lasting about an hour.

After issuing their statements to the press – no questions were allowed – they then had a working dinner that lasted another 90 minutes.

On Thursday Netanyahu will brief senior Russian journalists and meet with the local Jewish leadership. He is scheduled to fly back to Israel Thursday evening.

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