US Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday postponed a trip to Israel scheduled
for later this week amid a public row with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
over Iran’s nuclear program.
“As the secretary stated, they’ve discussed
the best timing for the visit,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said at
her daily press briefing, adding that Kerry still plans to travel to Israel in
the next several weeks.
“Obviously there’s a lot going on right
The delay comes as talks are set to restart on Wednesday for the
third time in Geneva between Iran and the P5+1 – the United States, the United
Kingdom, Russia, China, France and Germany – where negotiators hope to forge an
interim deal over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program
previous round of talks earlier this month, Kerry traveled directly from
meetings with Netanyahu in Tel Aviv to Geneva
, where he met with the Iranians to
discuss the possible agreement.
At the time, the prime minister offered
to gathered press over what he considered a “very, very bad
deal,” supported strongly by the United States.
Netanyahu kept up the
lobbying against any interim deal this week, saying on Monday that Iran already
has five bombs worth of lower-enriched uranium.
His comments came during
an interview with Germany’s Bild
newspaper, to be published on
Government officials explained that this amount of uranium
enriched to a lower level means that it would take relatively little effort – a
matter of weeks – for the Islamic Republic to turn it into higher-grade uranium
that would make up the fissile material needed for five nuclear
Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama will meet with Senate leaders
from both parties on Tuesday as senators weigh whether to impose new sanctions
on Tehran, the White House said.
Republicans and some of Obama’s fellow
Democrats in Congress argue that more sanctions are needed.Obama urged
last week to hold off on new sanctions and sought to reassure lawmakers
that any easing would be “modest” and could be quickly reversed if Iran showed
it was not serious about curbing its nuclear program.
The meeting on
Tuesday at the White House will include Senate leaders from both parties as well
as the chairmen and ranking Republicans from the Senate Banking, Foreign
Relations, Armed Services and Intelligence committees.
provide them with an update on the negotiations in Geneva, Bernadette Meehan, a
spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council,
Netanyahu reiterated in the interview with Bild that Iran should be
forced to dismantle its centrifuges and dismantle the plutonium reactor being
constructed at Arak.
“And if they refuse to do so, increase the
sanctions,” he said.
“Because the options are not a bad deal or war.
There is a third option: Keep the pressure up, in fact increase the
Netanyahu said he has made this point to German Chancellor
Angela Merkel, but up until now Berlin has not been swayed by the
The negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 will continue on
Wednesday, the same day that Netanyahu will meet with Russia’s President
Vladimir Putin in Moscow to argue against what he is saying at every opportunity
is a “bad agreement.”
Putin believes Iran faces a moment of a “real
chance” to resolve the long-standing dispute over its nuclear program with the
international community, he told President Hassan Rouhani in a telephone call on
Requesting the call two days before the third round of Geneva
talks, Putin characterized the interim deal being forged as a possible “solution
to this long-running problem.”
US Undersecretary of State for Political
Affairs Wendy Sherman is scheduled to fly to Geneva on Tuesday, where she will
lead the American delegation in negotiations with Iran, as well as in separate
talks in Geneva concerning Syria’s civil war.
In the Bild
Netanyahu said the agreement being discussed was indeed bad because it did not
obligate the Iranians to dismantle any of its capacity to make fissile material
for nuclear weapons.
“And if Iran won’t dismantle their centrifuges and
their plutonium reactor now with all the pressure, when you reduce the
[sanctions] pressure, you think you will get a better deal tomorrow? This is a
mistake, a terrible mistake, a historic error,” he said.
giving Iran sanctions relief – something that will give the Islamic Republic
“billions of dollars” – the international community should ratchet up the
sanctions, the prime minister said.
“And just at a decisive moment when
you can actually get Iran to back off – look who’s backing off... The P5+1 would
make a terrible mistake by reducing sanctions,” he said.
the sanctions may lead to “a better deal,” he said.
Regarding the public
dispute with Kerry over Washington’s Iran policy, Netanyahu said that even among
friends there will be disagreements.
“We agree on a lot of things, and on
this point we disagree,” he said. “I have to think about the survival of my
country and the survival of my people, and we are not going to let ayatollahs
with nuclear weapons threaten that.
Asked how – “considering the Iranian
threat” – he wanted to be viewed by history, Netanyahu replied, “As someone who
did everything on his watch to protect the Jewish people and the Jewish state so
that the horrors of the past are not repeated.”
Meanwhile, an exiled
Iranian opposition group is claiming to have information on a clandestine
nuclear site in Iran, built in similar fashion to the plant burrowed deep inside
a mountain in Fordow and first unsheathed by Western intelligence agencies in
The group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, has a spotty
track record with such claims – though it is credited for exposing Iran’s
uranium enrichment plant at Natanz and a heavy-water facility at Arak in
US intelligence officials have tacitly acknowledged the existence
of Iranian nuclear facilities not publicly acknowledged by either Iran or
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has
testified before Congress that, should Iran choose to break out its enrichment
of uranium to high levels, its government would likely choose to do so in
clandestine facilities, slowing down the process.
International law does
not require a country to declare the existence of a facility under construction,
until its government plans on bringing the plant online for nuclear
work.Reuters contributed to this report.