Iranian Air Force soldiers march in formation during the Army Day military parade in Tehran..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel does not expect world powers to reach a nuclear agreement with Iran by a late July deadline, a government minister said on Friday, accusing Tehran of maintaining a "hard line" at talks under way in Vienna.
Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz spoke on the second day of what could be the final round of talks aimed at ending a decade-old international dispute over Iran's nuclear program that Israel sees as a threat to its existence.
Asked whether he believed there would be a deal in less than three weeks, Steinitz told Reuters in Jerusalem: "My estimate is that there will not be. I think the Iranians came with a very hard line."
"The Iranians came without willingness to compromise but with a desire to exploit this stage to soften and improve the opening positions of the other side," he said.
Steinitz led a high-level Israeli delegation to Washington on Monday, meeting US negotiators Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns and Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman.
Israel has repeatedly made clear its skepticism about the diplomatic push to reach an accord that would see Tehran scale back its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
It has in the past threatened to attack Iranian nuclear sites. Iran denies it is seeking weapons capability and says Israel's presumed nuclear arms are the real threat to peace.
Steinitz said his visit to Washington showed how important the matter was for Israel, "more even than the serious terrorism from Gaza and the murder of the youths and the problems on the northern border with Lebanon and Syria."
Steinitz reiterated Israel's position that Iran should dismantle its entire program to enrich uranium. Not insisting on this "is already a kind of a concession by the West, or by the powers, (that) we think is wrong," he said.
Asked what Israel would do if there was an agreement that it did not see as satisfactory, Steinitz said: "We are keeping all options open. We will have to see what the deal is, to what extent it is good, to what extent it is bad, if it meets the minimum demands or not."
Steinitz also said that Israel was ready to meet any Jordanian request to help fight off Islamist insurgents who have overrun part of neighboring Iraq, although he believed Jordan was capable of defending itself.
Jordan is one of two Arab countries - along with Egypt - to have full peace treaties with Israel and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Sunday praised Amman's stability while echoing Western powers in pledging support to safeguard it.
Asked to elaborate on the statement, Steinitz said potential Israeli assistance could include sending troops or arms, though he saw that as unlikely.
"We have an interest in ensuring that Jordan does not fall to, or be penetrated by, groups like Al-Qaida or Hamas or ISIS," he told Reuters.
"If, God forbid, there is a need, if such a request comes, if there is an emergency situation, then of course Israel will extend all help required. Israel will not allow groups like ISIS to take over Jordan."
ISIS, or ISIL as it also known, are radical Sunni Islamist insurgents who have seized much of northern and western Iraq, which has borders with Syria and Jordan.
Steinitz drew a comparison with Israel's willingness to intervene during 1970 border skirmishes between Syria and Jordan as Amman cracked down on Palestinian guerrillas on its turf.
"Israel said it would take action against the Syrian tank brigades that invaded Jordan, but what happened is exactly what I assess would happen now, too - the Jordanian army managed on its own to to halt the Syrian advance and destroy dozens of Syrian tanks and the Syrian army withdrew."
Today's Jordanian military similarly did not require help, Steinitz said, "as they are sufficiently professional and determined.”
Jordan's embassy in Israel declined comment on possible security coordination with the Netanyahu government.