WASHINGTON - Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz is "cautiously optimistic" that negotiations with Iran could lead to a peaceful diplomatic solution to the slow-motion nuclear crisis, he told The Jerusalem Post in an interview on Thursday.
But the minister said that talks between Iran and the P5+1— the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China and Germany— may take "several months" to produce tangible results.
"I think it will take several months at least, but you have to see that finally the Iranians are coming with a real willingness to give up, and it's not the case yet," Steinitz said.
Steinitz is in Washington for a series of high-level meetings, including talks with US Vice President Joseph Biden on Thursday afternoon, which he said were dominated by the Iranian threat.
While characterizing the meetings as "very friendly, very open and candid" with "no tension," Steinitz acknowledged that there still exist some "differences in views on the way to get" to a deal.
"You should have a final-status, satisfactory agreement, and not an interim agreement," he said, reiterating the position outlined by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the United Nations General Assembly in September.
"Of course they're interested in a peaceful solution," he said of the Rouhani government. "But they're interested in a peaceful solution convenient for them."
Israel hopes any ultimate agreement looks more like the Libyan model cast in 2003, when that country fully gave up its enrichment capability. Iran seeks a deal more like the one cast between the international community and North Korea in 2007, Steinitz asserted, where the Koreans froze but retained their capability, only to break out and develop bombs years later.
As the US Senate considers a new sanctions bill that would aim to further cripple Iran's strained oil sector, Steinitz declined to comment on specific American legislation, though he strongly implied that Israel supports the new penalties.
"I don't want to comment on any specific legislation in the Senate, but I can say this," he added. "Netanyahu emphasized the formula of the equation: the greater the pressure, the greater the chances... for diplomacy to succeed."
The bill is currently being considered by the Banking Committee, and could reach the floor of the Senate for a vote by the end of the year.
The White House questions the timing of the new bill.
Steinitz said "there are no significant differences" between the US and Israel on how long remains until Iran becomes a nuclear weapons-effective state. The differences that remain, he said, depend on specific factors, such as how long Iran would need to weaponize a nuclear core or to assemble a device.
Asked why estimates in the civilian intelligence assessment community are up to six months shorter than official government estimates— both Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama have said Iran needs roughly a year to build a bomb, while independent experts say Iran only needs two to four months using the facilities publicly known— Steinitz declined to comment.
Steinitz pointed out the significance of the week in US-Israel relations, with three major events taking place within hours of each other: the strategic dialogue, talks between himself and Biden and more discussion, "on the same issue," between Netanyahu and Secretary of State John Kerry in Rome.
"I am not pessimistic. I don't close the door for diplomacy," Steinitz said. "The greater the pressure, the greater the chances. If the pressure is preserved, and even increased, I will be cautiously optimistic."
The vice president's office put out a short statement on the meeting, saying the two men discussed "a range of bilateral and regional issues" and reaffirming the "unshakable" relationship between the allies.
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