Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu preparing for an interview with CBS's Face the Nation.
(photo credit: GPO)
WASHINGTON – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended his speech to Congress on the issue of Iran on Sunday, suggesting the Obama administration has moved the goalposts in negotiations with Tehran over its nuclear program.
Reports that the United States may offer Arab nations in the Middle East a “nuclear umbrella” – protection from a nuclear-threshold Iran in exchange for guarantees they won’t seek similar technology themselves – “signals a shift in US policy from preventing a nuclear Iran to containing one,” Netanyahu told Face the Nation of CBS News.
“I think there’s a better deal,” he said. “The better deal is to increase the breakout time and limit Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.”
World powers are offering Iran a comprehensive deal that would allow Iran to retain nearly all of its nuclear infrastructure; continue uranium enrichment on its own soil; and ultimately join the international community after roughly a decade of adherence to a strict verification regime.
Netanyahu repeated his suggestion that long-term restrictions on Iran not be lifted unless it commits to changing its behavior on the international stage. The policy has been derided as “wholly unrealistic and, frankly, simplistic” by the Obama administration.
On Friday, the White House retweeted a column from foreign policy commentator Fareed Zakaria in which he claims Netanyahu has been wrong for 25 years on Iran. Questioned on the assertion, Netanyahu said efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, including his own, have delayed, and not hastened, their acquisition.
While the prime minister said he wants a breakout time longer than the official and public US position of one year, he declined to issue a specific amount of time acceptable to his government.
“In a year, anything could happen,” he said, noting that Israel’s preference is to prevent Iran from enriching any material on its own soil. “You could have international crises. They could get away with it.”
US President Barack Obama also spoke with CBS News this weekend from Selma, Alabama, where he also answered questions on the nuclear talks.
“If we cannot verify that they are not going to obtain a nuclear weapon, that there’s a breakout period so that even if they cheated we would be able to have enough time to take action – if we don’t have that kind of deal, then we’re not going to take it,” Obama told interviewer Bill Plante.
“I think it is fair to say there is an urgency, because we now have been negotiating for well over a year.”
The US, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China and Germany are hoping to reach a political framework agreement with Iran on the nuclear issue by March 31, and a comprehensive accord by the end of June.
“Over the next month or so, we’re going to be able to determine whether or not their system is able to accept what would be an extraordinarily reasonable deal if, in fact, as they say, they are only interested in peaceful nuclear programs,” Obama continued. “And if we have unprecedented transparency in that system, if we are able to verify that, in fact, they are not developing weapons systems, then there’s a deal to be had, but that’s going to require them to accept the kind of verification and constraints on their program that, so far at least, they have not been willing to say yes to.”
Also speaking on Sunday morning, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) said he supports Netanyahu’s position against the nuclear deal in its current form.
The Senate hopes to get 67 votes across the aisle, a vetoproof majority, that ensures hearings and a vote of approval or disapproval on any deal agreed upon by the United States.
“I’m hoping we can get 67 senators,” McConnell said. Referring to the president, he continued: “I think he’s afraid that we might not approve it.”