WASHINGTON - Iran is taking the Europeans for “suckers” by engaging in nuclear blackmail, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Monday amid threats from Iran that it will increase its uranium enrichment to 20%.
“Iran is engaged in nuclear blackmail, and understands apparently that the Europeans are suckers and are willing to close their eyes and not see or understand,” he said. “What Iran is doing today is renewing its march toward nuclear weapons.”
Steinitz’s comments in a KAN Bet interview follow remarks made in Tehran on Monday by Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, who announced that Iran has passed the 3.67% cap on uranium enrichment set by the 2015 nuclear deal. He said that the possibility of enriching uranium at even higher levels has been discussed with the Supreme National Security Council.
“Twenty percent is not needed now, but if we want we will produce it,” he was quoted in the Iranian media. “When we’ve put aside 3.67% enrichment we have no obstacle or problem with this action. There is a 20% option and there are options even higher than that but each in its own place. Today if our country’s needs are one thing, we won’t pursue something else just to scare the other side a little more. But they know it’s an upward trend.”
Steinitz said that if Iran does enrich uranium at 20%, then it is “80%-90% of the way toward a nuclear weapon.” Steinitz said that 20% enrichment is very close to fissile material. “So what Iran is doing is threatening the world – but also proving the justification of our argument that the agreement is bad.”
Steinitz said that the Iranians, under intense economic pressure, are “with their own hands” providing ultimate proof that the 2015 nuclear deal was poorly constructed. Under the deal, if the Iranians violate it – as they are doing now – they are “within a couple days or weeks to moving forward to a nuclear weapon.” Instead of freezing Iran’s capabilities as the current deal did, Steinitz added, it needed to dismantle them.
Asked how Israel would respond to Iran’s most recent move, Steinitz said that “first of all” Israel would give its full backing to the US against the Iranians in light of the “sleepiness and willingness of the Europeans to turn a blind eye” to the developments.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu emphasized two days ago, Steinitz said, that “Israel will not allow Iran to get nuclear weapons, and will not allow it to establish bases in Syria.” Tehran knows that Netanyahu is serious with these red lines, Steinitz said, and has felt “the might of our hand” in Syria where it has not succeeded in establishing military airports or anti-aircraft missile bases. “They understand our warnings,” he said.
In a video hook up to the Christians United for Israel (CUFI) annual conference in Washington on Monday, Netanyahu said that the nuclear deal was based on a lie, since the country’s nuclear archives that Israel spirited out of the country show that Iran has been working on developing nuclear weapons for 20 years.
The prime minister said that the deal “made other problems worse by removing sanctions on Iran, thereby helping Iran fuel its war machine in the region.” When the sanctions were removed, he said, Iran got “tens of billions of dollars, potentially hundreds of billions of dollars,” to fund its aggression. “Now Iran is trying to lash out to reduce the pressure,” he said. “They attack tankers, they down American drones, they’re firing missiles at their neighbors. It’s important to respond to these actions not by reducing the pressure, but by increasing the pressure.”
Netanyahu praised Trump’s sanctions and Britain’s interdicting of an Iranian oil tanker on Thursday in Gibraltar, which was on route to Syria in violation of EU sanctions against Syria. After praising Britain’s move, he said that the Europeans – Britain, Germany, and France – must leave the Iranian nuclear deal, as the US did last year, and snap back sanctions against Iran as promised because of their violations.
US Vice President Mike Pence reacted on Monday to the Iranian announcement saying, “Iran should not confuse American restraint with a lack of American resolve.”
Speaking at the CUFI conference, the vice president added, “We hope for the best that the United States of America and our military are prepared to protect our interests and protect our personnel and our citizens in the region. We will continue to oppose Iran’s malign influence. We will continue to bring pressure on their economy, and under President Donald Trump, America will never allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon.”
He addressed the close relationship between the Trump administration and Netanyahu’s government, saying that “history has already proven [him] to be the greatest friend of the Jewish people in the state of Israel ever to sit in the Oval Office.”
“President Trump promised that Israel would have the resources and tools to defend itself by itself,” he continued. “Under his leadership, American support for the security of the state of Israel has never been stronger, and the military of the state of Israel is stronger than ever before.”
He also addressed the tensions between the administration and the Palestinian Authority, and mentioned that “President Trump promised to shut down the PLO office in Washington if the Palestinian Authority refused to take steps to stop funding terrorists who murder innocent Israeli civilians with American tax dollars. And when the PLO refused, president Trump shut their office. The Taylor Force Act is now the law of the land.”
Regarding Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Pence joked, “To say that everyone in the world was against it would be an understatement.” He added that “President Trump is a man of his word.”
Speaking about the prospects of peace between Israel and the Palestinians, Pence said that “A lasting peace can only be built on a foundation of truth. We pray for the peace of Jerusalem, that those who love her will be secure. And even as we pray, we will work for peace. President Trump is committed to finding a path that can lead to a true, just, and lasting peace. For Israel, the Palestinians, and all the peoples of the region.”
He then added that “For peace to be lasting and to be real, it must be negotiated. Peace can only be negotiated with partners who are committed to peace. Hamas is a terrorist organization that seeks the destruction of Israel, and the United States will never negotiate with terrorist Hamas.”
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