As a week remains for Trump decision on Iran, Netanyahu's uncharacteristic silence echoes

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October 8, 2017 07:58

Netanyahu’s advisers cite ‘Fix it or nix it’ speech at the UN but the PM still has no comment.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump at Ben Gurion airport on May 23, 2017. (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has yet to publicly comment on US President Donald Trump’s upcoming decision on whether to “decertify” the Iranian nuclear deal, even as advisers to the premier responded to queries about the matter on Saturday night by referring to his “Fix it or nix it” speech at the UN some three weeks ago.

Trump, who has called the nuclear deal – known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – an “embarrassment,” faces an October 15 deadline for deciding whether to certify to Congress, as he must do every 90 days, whether Iran is abiding by the deal and whether it remains in America’s national interest.

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If he determines that the Iranians are not abiding by the agreement, Congress will have two months to decide what course to take, including whether to reimpose economic sanctions.

Netanyahu, in his September 19 speech to the UN General Assembly, said Israel’s policy toward the accord was simple: “Change it or cancel it, fix it or nix it. Nixing the deal means restoring massive pressure on Iran, including crippling sanctions, until Iran fully dismantles its nuclear weapons capability.

Fixing the deal requires many things, among them inspecting military and any other site that is suspect, and penalizing Iran for every violation. But, above all, fixing the deal means getting rid of the sunset clause.”

The 2015 agreement includes a number of clauses that expire at certain dates, leading critics – such as Netanyahu – to argue that Iran has no need to violate the agreement to attain nuclear arms, but rather it can just abide by the agreement and be able to cross the nuclear threshold “legally” when certain clauses expire.

For instance, under the deal, prohibitions on the number of centrifuges and on research and development for new ones end in 2025.

Limitations on the level of uranium enrichment end in 2030, the same year a limit on the amount of low-enriched uranium that Iran can store expires, and also when a ban on constructing a heavy-water reactor that could be used for a plutonium- based bomb terminates.

Other limitations are in place until 2035 and 2040.
Netanyahu: Iran is responsible for more than 80% of Israel's security problems (credit: GPO)

At the UN, Netanyahu took aim at the sunset clauses, saying: “It means that in a few years, those restrictions will be automatically removed – not by a change in Iran’s behavior, not by a lessening of its terror or its aggression. They’ll just be removed by a mere change in the calendar.”

He said that “when that sunset comes, a dark shadow will be cast over the entire Middle East and the world, because Iran will then be free to enrich uranium on an industrial scale, placing it on the threshold of a massive arsenal of nuclear weapons.”

The New York Times, in an editorial on Saturday urging Trump to certify the deal, said the president’s own description of it at the UN as “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into,” showed – in part – “the influence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, who considers the Iran deal a travesty.”

Senior Israeli officials have been urging the US to reimpose economic sanctions on Iran, arguing that even if doing this would not have the same crippling impact on Iran’s economy as was the case before the deal was signed, when the rest of the world – including Europe, Russia and China – had imposed sanctions, it would force other countries into the dilemma of having to choose whether they wanted to do business with the US or with Iran.

This argument was reflected on Saturday in an op-ed Kulanu MK Michael Oren wrote in The New York Times.

“In 2015, the agreement’s promoters insisted that the United States could no longer maintain an international front against Iran and that sanctions, set up to last indefinitely, would soon unravel.

Now they predict that the international community will not follow America’s lead in withdrawing from the deal and reimposing sanctions,” wrote Oren, who was ambassador to the US from 2009 to 2013, during the heat of the Iranian nuclear debate.

“Had American sanctions on Iran remained in place in 2015, companies would have had to choose between doing business with the United States, the world’s topranked economy by gross domestic product, and Iran, ranked 27th.

That same stark choice will confront businesses if sanctions are reinstated,” Oren wrote.


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