Israel will continue to act in the “diplomatic arena” and “in other areas” to ensure that Iran does not get nuclear weapons, a senior Israeli official said Sunday night as Jerusalem braced for continued battle over the Iranian nuclear issue.
“The ball is still in play,” the official said, as Israel digested the significance of the agreement signed in Geneva in the early morning hours that legitimizes Iran’s enrichment of uranium, but freezes the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program for six months in exchange for sanctions relief estimated at $7 billion.
“We have no intention of sitting on the sidelines.”
The official said Jerusalem would continue to make its case to “relevant people, we are not giving up.”
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spoke by phone Sunday evening with US President Barack Obama, the White House announced.
Their differences of opinion on this issue were on full display, with Obama applauding the agreement, saying that diplomacy “opened up a new path toward a world that is more secure,” and Netanyahu slamming it, asserting that the accord rendered the world a “much more dangerous place.”
“What was agreed last night in Geneva is not a historic agreement, it is a historic mistake,” Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting. “Today the world has become a much more dangerous place, because the most dangerous regime in the world has taken a significant step toward attaining the most dangerous weapon in the world.”
For the first time, he said, the leading powers of the world agreed to uranium enrichment in Iran, while removing sanctions that it has taken years to build up in exchange for “cosmetic Iranian concessions that are possible to do away with in a matter of weeks.”
Netanyahu said the consequences of this deal threaten many countries including Israel. He reiterated what he has said in the past, that Israel is not obligated by the agreement.
“Iran is committed to Israel’s destruction, and Israel has the right and the obligation to defend itself by itself against any threat,” he said.
“I want to make clear as the prime minister of Israel, Israel will not allow Iran to develop a military nuclear capability.”
Speaking Sunday night at the Emet Prize for Art, Science and Culture ceremony, Netanyahu said that as more and more details of the agreement emerged, “it becomes clear how bad and dangerous the agreement is to the world, the region and Israel.”
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, who slammed the agreement early in the day, said at a Yisrael Beytenu gathering Sunday night that Israel finds itself in a new reality.
“We are in a new reality that is different from yesterday, and it requires us to reevaluate the situation with good judgment, responsibly and with determination.” Somewhat cryptically he added: “We will do what we must and will not hesitate for a minute – and there is no need to add another word.”
The interim, six-month agreement hammered out in Geneva between Iran and the P5+1 – the US, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany – won the critical endorsement of Iranian clerical Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The six-month agreement reached is the first stage of what the sides said they hope to be a mutually agreed, long-term comprehensive solution.
That solution, they say, will ensure Iran’s nuclear program will be exclusively peaceful in return for the comprehensive lifting of all UN sanctions.
While this interim accord is in place, talks will continue on a comprehensive deal.
Under the deal signed Sunday, Iran agreed to stop enriching uranium over 5 percent for six months, and to neutralize its stockpile of 20% enriched uranium, either by converting it into a form that cannot be enriched to greater purity, or by diluting it to less than 5%.
Likewise, Iran will not increase its stockpile of uranium enriched to 3.5%, will not build more enrichment facilities and will keep half of its centrifuges at Natanz and Fordow inoperable. Regarding the heavy water reactor at Arak, which, if operable could produce plutonium for an atom bomb, the Iranians have agreed to stop construction work on the plant, but not decommission it. They agreed to daily access for International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to enrichment facilities, mines and mills.
In return, the P5+1 will provide sanctions relief estimated to be worth some $7 billion, not impose additional sanctions if Iran abides by its commitments, and suspend some sanctions on Iran’s automotive industry, trade in gold and precious metals and its petrochemical exports.
From Jerusalem’s standpoint there were many problems with what was agreed upon, primarily that it gave Iran legitimacy to enrich uranium, even though numerous UN Security Council resolutions called for a suspension of all enrichment. Furthermore, Jerusalem is angered that the accord does not decommission the heavy-water reactor at Arak.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who has been coordinating diplomatic contacts with Iran on behalf of the major powers, said the accord created time and space for follow-up talks on a comprehensive solution to the dispute.
“This is only a first step,” said Iranian Foreign Minister and chief negotiator Mohammad Javad Zarif. “We need to start moving in the direction of restoring confidence, a direction which we have managed to move against in the past.”
Many Iranians expressed joy at the breakthrough and prospect of economic improvement. Iran’s rial currency, decimated earlier this year due to sanctions, jumped more than 3% on news of the deal on Sunday.
Obama said that if Iran did not meet its commitments during the six-month period covered by the interim deal, Washington would turn off the tap of sanctions relief and “ratchet up the pressure.”
“There are substantial limitations which will help prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon,” he said in a late-night appearance at the White House after the deal was sealed. “Simply put, they cut off Iran’s most likely paths to a bomb.”
But big power foreign ministers seemed relieved and elated after Ashton read out a statement proclaiming the deal in the middle of the night at the United Nations office in Geneva.
Ashton and US Secretary of State John Kerry hugged each other. Kerry and Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov shook hands. Minutes later, as Iran’s delegation posed for photos, Zarif and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius – who took the toughest line in the negotiations – embraced.
The agreement, while freezing US plans for deeper cuts to Iranian oil exports, will not allow any extra Iranian oil into the market or let Western energy investors into the country, US officials said.
Much of the sanctions infrastructure, anchored by a Western embargo on Iranian crude oil and a ban on Iranian use of the international banking system, would remain in place pending a final deal aimed at removing all risk of an Iranian atom bomb.
“Relief from sanctions is to begin in two to three weeks,” Iran’s Mehr news agency quoted Zarif as saying.
Reuters contributed to this report.