Israeli officials: The world is allowing Iran to keep enrichment centrifuges

Emerging deal also places 10-year cap on agreement; Gov’t officials say this is why Netanyahu must address Congress.

US AND IRANIAN negotiators pose yesterday in Geneva before another discussion of Iran’s nuclear program (photo credit: REUTERS)
US AND IRANIAN negotiators pose yesterday in Geneva before another discussion of Iran’s nuclear program
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Nine years after the UN Security Council passed a binding resolution calling on Iran to suspend uranium enrichment, the world powers – according to reports emerging from the nuclear talks in Geneva – are on the verge of allowing it to retain some 6,500 centrifuges.
“The trajectory is worrying,” one Israeli official said in an understatement, adding that the reports of the emerging deal are not a surprise to Jerusalem, which he said has known of the details for some time, even though the US admitted recently that it has left Israel out of the loop in recent months.
“In the beginning, the position of the world powers was that Iran should have no centrifuges,” the official said, referring to 2006 and the first of six UN Security Council resolutions on the matter.
“Then, in the interim agreement (2013), they [the P5+1] accepted the concept of some sort of symbolic enrichment, to allow the Iranians to save face.
If we are now talking about thousands of centrifuges, it is clear that we are not discussing something symbolic but a vast industrial capacity which is ultimately very, very dangerous,” he said.
The official used the emerging information to justify Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial address to Congress scheduled for next week, saying this is why he is so concerned and so intent on making his case to the US legislators.
A senior US official said Monday that there had been some progress in the talks that had managed to “sharpen up some of the tough issues,” but both sides said much remains to be done.
Negotiators from Iran and the P5+1 agreed to resume talks next Monday at a venue to be decided, the official said, speaking after US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif held two days of talks in Geneva.
Zarif told Iran’s Fars news agency: “We had serious talks with the P5+1 representatives and especially with the Americans in the past three days.... But still there is a long way to reach a final agreement.”
An Iranian source said that Zarif and Kerry would return to the Swiss city to launch the next round on March 2. Netanyahu is scheduled to address Congress on March 3.
AP reported the deal would initially freeze Iran’s nuclear program but gradually allow it to increase activities that could enable it to produce nuclear arms in the last years of the agreement, which is expected to last some 10 years.
The Jerusalem Post reported in November that Israeli officials were very concerned about the agreement’s definitive end date – or “sunset clause” – saying that, after the agreement’s expiration date, when Iran’s nuclear infrastructure will not have been dismantled, it will essentially be free to do whatever it wants.
Not only will the infrastructure not be dismantled, but, according to AP, the idea on the table now is to reward Iran during the duration of the agreement for good behavior by gradually lifting the limitations on its uranium enrichment.
Negotiators hope to meet a self-imposed March 31 deadline for an initial political deal, but a senior US official said that would not “make us rush to an agreement that does not fulfill the objectives that the president has given to us.”
The aim of ensuring that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon “has to be met, and that is not about the deadline, it is about the purpose,” the official said.
Diplomats say the six major powers aim for a deal lasting at least 10 years, under which Iran would need at least one year to produce enough highly enriched uranium for a single nuclear bomb – the so-called breakout capacity.
“We have always said we will have a one-year breakout time for a double- digit number of years, and that remains the case,” the senior US official said on Monday.
Israel’s position, and a source of friction between Jerusalem and Washington, is that a year is not enough time.
Reflecting the technical nature of the latest talks, US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Iranian atomic nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi took part. Helga Schmid, political director of the European Union’s External Action Service, also attended.
As the details of the emerging deals were coming out, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon reiterated Israel’s staunch opposition.
“The agreement with Iran as it is coming together now is a great danger to Western world peace and a threat to Israel’s security,” he said.
“Iran today is the leading factor for instability in the Middle East, and it sends terrorist proxies around the world with the goal of harming Western and Israeli interests,” he said. “Therefore, any agreement that will be signed between the West and this apocalyptic, messianic regime will severely harm Western and Israeli interests and enable Iran to become a threshold nuclear state and continue its terrorist activities.”
While officials in Jerusalem were saying that the talks in Geneva just showed how necessary it is for Netanyahu to address Congress, former Connecticut senator Joe Lieberman, an unsuccessful Democratic presidential candidate in 2000, called on Democrats to attend Netanyahu’s speech.
In an op-ed in The Washington Post, Lieberman wrote that “there is too much on the line in the negotiations with Iran for members of Congress to decide not to listen to what Netanyahu, or any other ally, has to say on this subject.”
A number of Democrats – including Vice President Joe Biden – said they would not be present at the speech.
“Just as British Prime Minister David Cameron deserved respectful attention when he called individual members of Congress recently to ask them to delay adopting more sanctions on Iran, and the foreign ministers of Germany, France and Britain deserved respectful reading when they made the same appeal to Congress in an op-ed in The [Washington] Post, so, too, does the prime minister of Israel deserve to be listened to respectfully by members of Congress when he speaks next week.”
In a related development, the Tel Aviv-based i24news reported Monday that even Netanyahu’s national security adviser, Yossi Cohen, a key foreign policy adviser, was kept in the dark about the invitation House Speaker John Boehner extended to Netanyahu to address Congress.
According to the report, Cohen was not consulted about the matter, which has since spiraled into a major source of friction between Netanyahu and the White House.
The Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment on the matter.
A recent poll of more than 1,000 Americans representing a statistical sample of the population of the United States found that they would overwhelmingly oppose an Iran deal similar to the one revealed by the Associated Press by 70 percent to 30%.
The poll, taken by conservative pollster Frank Luntz, found that 88% of respondents expect Iran to break their promises, and only 12% believe Iran is negotiating in good faith.
Only 4% are in favor of decreasing pressure on Iran, while 78% want to increase pressure.
Gil Hoffman and Reuters contributed to this report.