Government officials Monday defended Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s
skepticism of the world powers’ negotiations with Iran, even though his remark
that Saturday’s talks gave the Iranians a five-week “freebie” obviously irked US
President Barack Obama.
“The notion that somehow we’ve given something
away or a ‘freebie’ would indicate Iran has gotten something,” Obama said at a
news conference in Colombia Sunday afternoon (early Monday morning Israel time),
just hours after Netanyahu’s reaction to the Istanbul talks. “In fact, they’ve
got some of the toughest sanctions that they’re going to be facing coming up in
just a few months if they don’t take advantage of these talks.”
said that his initial impression of the talks was that Iran got “five weeks to
continue enrichment without any limitation, any inhibition.”
Obama’s irked response, officials in Jerusalem said it was important for
Netanyahu to put Israel’s position out there. This position, one official said,
is that Israel does not want to see the Iranians draw the world into a game
where each meeting brings a five or six week respite until the next, during
which Iran will continue enriching uranium and developing its nuclear
Netanyahu, the official said, made this position clear last
month in Ottawa when he said that Iran must be kept from again using
negotiations to gain time and advance its nuclear program.
Iran is feeling the pressure of economic sanctions, and it could try to evade
that pressure by entering talks,” Netanyahu said at the time. His comments
Sunday were merely an expansion on that theme, the official said.
in his comments in Colombia, said there would be more sanctions imposed on Iran
if there was no breakthrough in nuclear talks with the group known as the P5+1 –
the US, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany.
“We’re going to keep
on seeing if we make progress,” Obama said.
“Now, the clock is ticking
and I’ve been very clear to Iran and to our negotiating partners that we’re not
going to have these talks just drag out in a stalling process,” he
Meanwhile, Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said Iran is
ready to resolve all nuclear issues in the next round of talks in Baghdad on May
23 if the West starts lifting sanctions.
In an interview with the Iranian
student news agency ISNA, Salehi also hinted that Iran could make concessions on
its higher-grade uranium enrichment, which could be used for nuclear
Salehi asserted Iran’s right to process uranium for peaceful
purposes but that there might be room for a compromise on higher-level
“Enrichment is Iran’s right but we can negotiate on how we
obtain uranium with different enrichment levels,” he said.
percent [enriched nuclear] fuel is our right as long as it provides for our
reactor needs and there is no question about that,” he said, but added: “If they
guarantee that they will provide us with the different levels of enriched fuel
that we need, then that would be another issue.”
The comments indicate
that Iran may be prepared to consider an updated proposal of a 2009 fuel swap
deal that collapsed when the two sides failed to agree on the details of
The 2009 deal would have seen Tehran export an agreed
amount of its lower enriched uranium in return for fuel made from higher grade
uranium, which is required for the Tehran research reactor.
said they were content with progress made in Saturday’s talks in Istanbul, which
did not go into detail but, unlike earlier rounds of negotiations, stayed on the
subject of Iran’s nuclear program.
“If the West wants to take confidence-
building measures it should start in the field of sanctions because this action
can speed up the process of negotiations reaching results,” Salehi was quoted as
“If there is goodwill, one can pass through this process very
easily and we are ready to resolve all issues very quickly and simply and even
in the Baghdad meeting,” he added.
It is unclear whether the Iranian
foreign minister was suggesting the lifting of sanctions prior to Iran taking
steps to reassure the West over its nuclear activities, but Washington has said
that would not be acceptable.
Dialogue is not sufficient for any
sanctions relief, one has to get to concrete actions that are significant, said
a senior Obama administration official after the talks on Saturday.
only begins to look at those issues when there are sufficient concrete steps
taken that warrant any changes in our approach to sanctions,” the official
Denmark, holder of the European Union’s rotating presidency, also
said sanctions should not be eased until Tehran takes steps to comply with the
demands of the major world powers.
“I think it would be very dangerous to
create a situation where we say to Iranians we might lift part of the
sanctions,” Danish Foreign Minister Villy Sovndal told reporters. “They are
world champions in making very long negotiations lead nowhere.”