Iran is trying to squeeze more and more concessions from the world powers negotiating with it as the June 30 deadline for a nuclear agreement is fast approaching, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday.
Netanyahu, speaking at a graduation ceremony for air force cadets, said that concessions from the P5+1 powers to Iran have only increased Teheran’s appetite, and every day it adds new demands.
Referring to a speech by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei earlier this week, Netanyahu said he tried to roll back key elements of the agreement reached earlier in the year in Lausanne. Among Khamenei’s new demands are for there to be no limits on Iran’s nuclear program for the next decade, a call for sanction relief not to be linked to Iran’s fulfillment of its obligations, and calling for no supervision of Iran’s military sites.
“Even if in the next few days Iran gives up on some of those demands,” Netanyahu said, “the basic concessions made by the world powers would be enormous and would be a significant retreat from red lines they publicly set before.”
With intensive talks due to start in Vienna on Saturday, Netanyahu said that the agreement being discussed is “fundamentally flawed” and will give the Iranians a path to the development of an arsenal of nuclear weapons in a decade.
Furthermore, he said, sanctions relief provided Iran will give it billions of dollars with which it can continue to sow instability and support terrorism throughout the region and the world.
Netanyahu said it is not too late to demand a better agreement, and certainly not too late not to move forward with a bad one.
Whatever will be, he concluded, “Israel will always defend itself.”
Netanyahu’s argument against a deal received some strong reinforcement, after a group of prominent American security advisers, including five with ties to President Barack Obama’s first term, warned on Wednesday that the emerging deal on curbing Iran’s nuclear program risks failing to provide adequate safeguards.
In an open letter, the group of former US officials and foreign policy experts cautioned that an Iran nuclear deal would “fall short of meeting the administration’s own standard of a “good’ agreement” unless it included a tougher line on United Nations nuclear inspections and conditions for sanctions relief.”
Dennis Ross, an adviser on Iran and the Middle East in Obama’s first term, said it is vital that negotiations not be driven by a deadline, but by “getting it right.”
“The Iranians must understand that we will catch them if they cheat and that the price will be high even for lesser transgressions,” Ross said.
“And, they must know that we will not permit them to have a weapons capability.”
“Most of us would have preferred a stronger agreement,” the letter released by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said. “The agreement will not prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapons capability. It will not require the dismantling of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.
It will, however, reduce that infrastructure for the next 10 to 15 years.”
In addition to Ross, the letter was signed by David Petraeus, former CIA director and US commander in Iraq, Robert Einhorn, a former member of the US negotiating team with Iran, retired Gen. James Cartwright and Gary Samore, an Obama adviser on nuclear policy turned president of the advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran.
The letter was also signed by Stephen Hadley, a national security adviser to both former president George W. Bush and his brother, Republican presidential contender Jeb Bush.
Samore’s advocacy group, meanwhile, launched a multi-million dollar public relations campaign this week “to educate and engage the American people and legislators in a discussion of the critical issues remaining in negotiations with Iran.”
The campaign will include television and newspaper advertisements, and continue through the time Congress will consider any agreement.
Former US ambassador to the UN Mark Wallace, the group’s CEO, said it is important during the final stretch of the negotiations for the American people to be “fully apprised” of what the negotiators have already compromised. This includes that Iran’s nuclear infrastructure will remain intact; it will retain its underground nuclear facility at Fordow; it can engage in further research and development on advanced centrifuges; and all nuclear restrictions on Iran will end over the next 10 to 15 years.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, meanwhile, seemed to walk back on Thursday recent comments he made that the US was “not fixated” on past Iranian nuclear work, as it had “absolute knowledge, and was looking to the future instead.”
He phoned Iran’s foreign minister in recent days to tell him that Tehran must answer questions about whether its past atomic research was arms-related if it wants a nuclear deal, officials said. Kerry, officials told Reuters, called Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to make sure he did not think Washington was letting Iran off the hook on this matter.
“Kerry phoned Zarif and told him the past does matter and the US was insisting that the PMD [possible military dimensions] issue be resolved in the negotiations,” a Western source close to the talks told Reuters.
An Iranian official said Kerry spoke to Zarif twice in recent days.
“There were two calls from Kerry to Zarif, during which he corrected his stance... He told Mr. Zarif that he had been misunderstood and the past activities are important and should be clarified,” a senior Iranian official told Reuters. “Also he said that Iran should come clean on the past activities.”
According to a senior French diplomat, Kerry reassured Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius earlier this week that the United States had not softened its stance on PMD and that his remarks had been over-interpreted.
“If we are to know what Iran may get up to, then we need to know up to a point what Iran did do,” the diplomat said, adding that Paris and Washington share the same view.