PM to take rhetoric against Iran deal from behind microphone into meetings with Hollande, Putin

Netanyahu says during visit of Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders, that “Our common goal, that of the US, Europe, China and Russia, is to prevent Iran from developing a military nuclear capability.”

By
November 12, 2013 03:18
BINYAMIN NETANYAHU speaks in the Knesset.

B.Netanyahu 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

 
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Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is to meet both French President François Hollande and Russian President Vladimir Putin next week to try and “improve” the deal the world powers are hammering out with Iran that Netanyahu adamantly opposes.

Both Russia and France are members of the P5+1 – along with the US, China, Britain and Germany – and Netanyahu is expected to use those meetings to lobby against signing a deal that includes sanctions relief without the Iranians being asked to take steps to dismantle their nuclear program.

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According to senior US officials, the deal that was discussed over the weekend in Geneva would have Iran freeze its nuclear program for six months, in exchange for what they describe as moderate and reversible sanctions relief. The officials hope that a comprehensive agreement dismantling the program could then be reached during that period.

Israel’s position, as stated Monday by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon at the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly, is that the sanctions should be relieved only when the Iranians dismantle their centrifuges, “not a minute before.” If Iran is just going to freeze its program, not dismantle it, then the sanctions should remain in place, he said.

Netanyahu, who continued Monday with his fierce criticism of the deal, is scheduled to meet Sunday in Jerusalem with Hollande during the first day of the French president’s three day visit here – his first since taking office. France was instrumental in preventing a deal from being signed Saturday night, believing it did not go far enough to neutralize the heavy-water reactor at Arak and the risk of an Iranian atom bomb.

Israeli officials have been saying for months that France has staked out the toughest position toward Iran among the P5+1 countries.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius nonetheless expressed hope on Monday that a deal could be reached, although he said Tehran still had to make an effort on a few points.



“We are not far from an agreement with the Iranians, but we are not there yet,” he told Europe1 radio. “I am hopeful we will reach a good deal.

We want an accord that ensures regional and international stability.”

Fabius said Iran must suspend construction of its Arak heavy-water reactor and halt uranium enrichment to a concentration of 20 percent to win a relaxation of the sanctions, a position long held by Paris.

Israel wants to see the uranium enrichment halted completely.

On Wednesday, just three days after meeting Hollande, Netanyahu is to travel to Moscow for two days and a meeting with Putin that is to take place on the same day that negotiators are scheduled to meet again in Geneva.

“Israel is united in opposition to the deal being offered to Iran,” Netanyahu reiterated at a Likud Beytenu faction meeting in the Knesset. “We are speaking in a clear and unequivocal voice. The time that was gained over the weekend must be utilized to achieve a much better deal.”

Aware of criticism that his lobbying campaign is too loud and open, and should be conducted privately in a manner that does not create tension with the US, Netanyahu said, “We will continue to say this simple truth in a clear voice because this is what needs to be done. When it comes to things that are so essential and fateful for the future and security of Israel, and for the peace of the world, one must speak clearly, and we are doing so to prevent a bad deal.”

Earlier, during a meeting with visiting Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders. Netanyahu – perhaps trying to blunt the harshness of his criticism a bit – said that “our common goal, that of the US, Europe, China and Russia, is to prevent Iran from developing a military nuclear capability.”

He then said it was time to improve the deal, and that was possible because Iran was on its knees economically.

Ya’alon said the very talk of sanctions relief has improved the value of the Iranian rial, led to gains in the Iranian stock market, and to feelers put out by Chinese businesses eager to resume trade. Ya’alon said it will take more than six months for a comprehensive deal to be reached on the nuclear program, and that if during that period Iran’s economy improved, then there would be no pressure and the talks would continue forever.

US ambassador Dan Shapiro, however, disagreed with that assessment, saying at a different session at the JFNA GA meeting that the US was “not going to give away that leverage [from sanctions] before we have confidence that a comprehensive agreement can be reached.”

He said that the sanction relief that was being discussed was “very limited, reversible and easily controlled,” and would not touch the “main architecture of the sanctions,” which he described as the sanctions on Iran’s oil and financial sectors.

“Our goal is clear: to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, through diplomacy and sanctions if possible, but using other means, including a military option, if necessary.

We will not fail to achieve this goal,” he said.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday he hoped an agreement would be signed within months.

“This is not a race to complete just any agreement,” Kerry told a news conference during a visit to the United Arab Emirates. However, he added: “Through diplomacy we have an absolute responsibility to pursue an agreement.”

While saying that a deal with Iran was expected within months, Kerry tried to reassure Washington’s Arab allies and Israel that his country would not abandon them.

Thumping the podium to make his point, Kerry said US President Barack Obama had said “that he will continue to defend his friends and allies in this region, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, others, he will defend them against any external attack.

“That is the promise of the United States and as I stand here as secretary of state, as long as I’m secretary of state, that is also our policy, my policy, representing the president of the United States in executing it.”

Reuters contributed to this report.

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