Iran would still have the capacity to produce dozens of nuclear bombs under the terms of a deal the six world powers and Tehran are negotiating, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned on Monday.
The agreement that is under debate between the P5+1 countries – the United States, Russia, China, Great Britain, France and Germany – and Iran is unacceptable to Israel, Netanyahu said.
It “is dangerous for Israel, the region and the world,” he said during a visit to Israel Aerospace Industries with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. “It leaves Iran the ability to produce the necessary material for a nuclear bomb within a few months and, afterwards, to produce dozens of nuclear bombs.”
“Israel adamantly opposes this agreement,” the prime minister said as part of his campaign against the interim deal that the P5+1 countries hope to conclude with Iran in March, and which is set to be followed by a permanent deal in June.
Netanyahu has argued that increased sanctions, not an agreement, will halt Iran’s nuclear program.
A senior diplomatic official said on Monday that it is unlikely the world powers and Iran will reach an agreement on Tehran’s nuclear program before the end of March.
Conclusion of an interim deal, he said, is dependent on “difficult decisions” the Iranians will have to make.
Significant differences remain between Iran and the P5+1 countries, the official said, adding that it is difficult to see how it will be possible to overcome the Iranian demand for a removal of all the sanctions. No one can say with certainty whether an agreement will be signed in the near future, he said.
“There has still not been a deep Iranian change regarding the concessions that can bring them to an agreement,” the official said. “We are not seeing a strategic decision regarding concessions by [Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei.”
A crisis in the talks could definitely “sharpen the dilemma for the Iranians and help get to an agreement under better conditions,” he said.
Last week, Mossad head Tamir Pardo told a group of visiting senators led by John McCain that ratcheting up sanctions on Iran would be tantamount to “throwing a grenade” into a room in the sense that it could create “a temporary crisis in the negotiations, at the end of which talks would resume under improved conditions.”
According to the senior diplomatic official, a combination of diplomatic pressure and economic leverage increases the chances for better results in the negotiations.
Placing pressure on Iran does not guarantee that an agreement will be reached, but the lack of pressure will ensure that there would not be an agreement, he said.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said that no agreement was better then a bad agreement when he spoke in Moscow with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, on Monday.
“Israel is keeping all options on the table,” he said at a joint press conference with Lavrov. He plans to deliver the same message to Chinese officials when he visits China later this week.
Netanyahu said during his visit to Israel Aerospace Industries that a nuclear Iran poses the greatest threat to Israel.
“I, as prime minister, stand up and say this unequivocally. We will do everything in order to prevent the arming of Iran with nuclear weapons capabilities,” he said.
Netanyahu made similar statements on Iran on Sunday at a Likud event and at the weekly cabinet meeting.
The prime minister plans to address a joint session of the US Congress on March 3 to urge American politicians to pass new legislation to increase sanctions against Iran.
Netanyahu’s Washington trip, however, is already fraught with controversy.
His acceptance of the invitation by Republican House Speaker John Boehner was widely perceived as a partisan act that assists Republican legislators in their battle against US President Barack Obama that could have diplomatic fall out for Israel.
The situation was aggravated by what the White House called a breach of protocol, in which it learned of the invitation only after Netanyahu accepted it.
In an interview with the CBS program 60 Minutes on Sunday, Boehner was quizzed about the failure to inform the White House.
“We gave them a heads-up that morning,” he said.
But he brushed off a question about whether the invitation was a “brush-back pitch,” a message to Obama that Congress planned to go its own way on foreign policy.
Instead, Boehner spoke of the need for sanctions should an agreement fail.
“I am very concerned about the Iranians, the threat that they could be developing a nuclear weapon,” he said.
He added that he invited Netanyahu to Washington because “there is no one in the world who can talk about the threat of radical terrorism, no one [who] can talk about the threat that the Iranians pose, not just to the Middle East and to Israel, our longest ally, but to our entire world, [other] than Bibi Netanyahu.”