Netanyahu heads to Rome, urges Italy, US to keep pressure on Iran

PM: Iran insistence on centrifuges, plutonium is to build nuclear weapons.

October 23, 2013 00:27
Prime Minister Netanyahu with Italian counterpart Enrico Letta, October 22, 2013.

Netanyahu with Italian PM Enrico Letta 370. (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO)

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu arrived in Rome on Tuesday to urge Italy and the US to continue to impose sanctions against Iran as the best path to peacefully disarm Tehran’s nuclear weapons program.

“We must ensure that Iran won’t have nuclear weapons capabilities and that this can be achieved peacefully,” Netanyahu told his Italian counterpart Enrico Letta during a Tuesday night meeting in Rome.

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He was likely to repeat this message in his meeting Wednesday with US Secretary of State John Kerry. The two men were also to discuss the Israeli Palestinian peace process.

“Iran says it wants a deal that will allow for civilian nuclear energy, but that is not the real issue,” Netanyahu said Tuesday night.

“Many countries in Europe, North America, Asia, have nuclear power programs with centrifuges or plutonium,” he said. “The only reason Iran has insisted on centrifuges and plutonium is to allow it to produce enough material for a nuclear bomb.” The United Nations Security Council has passed resolutions, including one in 2010, that called on Iran to dismantle its centrifuges and to stop the production of plutonium, Netanyahu said.

“If Iran retains these capabilities, it can move quickly to produce a [nuclear] bomb,” Netanyahu said. “We can’t allow them to do this.”

Israel’s quest and desire for peace would be seriously impacted if Iran can produce a nuclear weapon, Netanyahu said.

Last week’s six-party talks in Geneva between Iran and the US, Russia, China, France, Germany and the United Kingdom opened the door to the possibility of a diplomatic solution to Iran’s nuclear program. Another round of talks is to be held in Geneva on November 7 and 8.

Iran is hopeful that the talks will result in the lifting of some of the sanctions against it, if it offers to curb but not eliminate its uranium enrichment program.

Iran is reaching out to its old oil buyers and is ready to cut prices if Western sanctions against it are eased, promising a battle for market share in a world less hungry for oil than when sanctions were imposed.

The Islamic republic’s crude exports more than halved after the European Union and United States, which accuse Tehran of seeking nuclear weapons, tightened sanctions in mid-2012, cutting its budget revenues by at least $35 billion annually.

“The Iranians are calling around already saying let’s talk.... You have to be careful, of course, but there is no law against talking,” said a highlevel oil trader, whose company is among many that stopped buying Iran’s oil because of sanctions.

But as Netanyahu worked on the Iranian issue in Rome, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas traveled in Europe as well to urge its leaders to pressure Israel to halt West Bank settlement activity. On Tuesday he continued his visit to Lithuania.

Israel has insisted that it will continue to build in the West Bank settlements. But separately, as a gesture to Abbas, it is preparing to release a second group of Palestinian prisoners who have been held in Israeli jails for terror activity since before the approval of the 1993 Oslo Accords.

Early Tuesday morning the IDF killed an Islamic Jihad member who it alleged was behind a 2012 Tel Aviv bus bomb.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said that the current wave of terror was not likely to lead to a delay or cancellation of the release of Palestinian security prisoners as part of ongoing peace talks with the Palestinians.

“As long as the process is ongoing, we are obligated to free the pre-Oslo prisoners. I expect that we will go forward with the next prisoner release,” Ya’alon stated.

To support the peace process Qatar agreed on Monday to give $150 million in debt relief to the Palestinian Authority as the pace of direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians intensified.

Since direct talk resumed in July, Israelis and Palestinians have held 13 serious meetings, three of which occurred over the last four days, Kerry told reporters at a joint press conference in Paris with Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid al-Atiyah.

“The pace [of the talks] has intensified. All the core issues are on the table, and they [the Israelis and Palestinians] have been meeting with increased intensity,” Kerry said.

Economic support is an important part of the peace process, Kerry told reporters in Paris, as he expressed confidence that other Arab countries would follow Qatar’s example.

But, he cautioned, a finalstatus agreement for a twostate solution is dependent on the ability of the two parties to make “key decisions” and “reasonable compromises.”

“That includes taking all of the steps that are necessary to create a positive atmosphere for the negotiations,” Kerry said.

He chided both the Israelis and the Palestinians and reminded them that a conducive atmosphere was one of the key things they had agreed to abide by for the duration of the nine-month peace process.

Kerry’s remarks come at a time when, in spite of the continuation of the talks, Palestinians and Israelis have both acted in ways that antagonized the other and have continued to exchange harsh words in public.

At the press conference, however, Kerry accentuated the positive. He said he was pleased with the Id al-Adha wishes that Netanyahu issued in advance of the Palestinian holiday.

Netanyahu has clarified that Israel is committed to maintaining the status quo in holy places, Kerry said.

“He [Netanyahu] made it clear that the hand of Israel is extended to the Palestinian people in hopes of peace,” Kerry said.

Kerry commended the Arab League and its offer through the Arab Peace Initiative to normalize relations between Israel and 57 nations, of which 35 are Muslim and 22 Arab. He thanked the Palestinian Authority as well as Abbas for their support of the peace process.

The Israeli and Palestinian leaders have displayed courage in entering and remaining in the peace process, Kerry said. They understand what is at stake, and they have taken risks in order to bring both parties to the table, he stated.

A two-state solution that offers a just and lasting peace is achievable, Kerry said, and added that the opportunity for peace was just over the horizon.

“Two proud peoples deserve the opportunity to realize their legitimate aspirations, their security, and their freedom, and their future,” Kerry said.

Atiyah told reporters that a two-state solution would be based on the pre-1967 borders.

He added that the division that exists between Gaza and the West Bank does not help the peace process. A way has to be found to open the crossing points in and out of Gaza, Atiyah said.

“Isolating Gaza won’t help the peace process,” he said.

Atiyah said he was concerned by Israel’s statements that harm the peace process as well as its actions, such as settlement expansion and the destruction of Palestinian homes and Beduin communities.

“Also, raising the Israeli flag, we consider this to be a transgression that we cannot possibly accept, not in the Arab world or the Islamic world. Therefore, we urge that the conducive environment for the negotiations be created,” said Atiyah.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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