PM says world's talks 'useful' to Iran because it 'buys them more time'

Speaking alongside visiting Nigerian leader, Netanyahu restated Israel will prevent Iran from getting nuclear bomb.

By MICHAEL WILNER IN WASHINGTON
October 28, 2013 22:13
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu meets with Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan October 28, 2013.

bibi with nigerian prez 370. (photo credit: GPO / Kobi Gideon)

 
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Israel is committed to ensuring Iran does not get nuclear weapons, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reiterated Monday, even as Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency held their first high-level meeting since the June election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

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This meeting followed two days of discussions in Geneva two weeks ago between Iran and the P5+1 – the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany – and prior to another round of talks scheduled for November 7 and 8.

“I heard Iranian officials define the last round of talks as ‘useful and constructive,’” Netanyahu said. “Well, I am sure that for the Iranians they were useful and constructive, because they just win time to continue their enrichment program to create fissile material for nuclear weapons.”

Netanyahu, speaking alongside Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan before a meeting between the two men, said the talks would indeed be “useful and constructive” when the pressure on Iran compelled it to completely halt its uranium enrichment and stop work on its hard water plutonium reactor – two elements not needed for the production of nuclear energy, but only for building a bomb.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu meets with Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan October 28, 2013. Photo: GPO / Kobi Gideon

Stopping Iran’s nuclear march, Netanyahu said, was not only important for Israel, but also for Nigeria and the rest of the world. The prime minister said that Israel and Nigeria share a common interest in fighting terrorism and that Iran was “the foremost sponsor of terrorism in the world.”



Nigeria is one of a cluster of countries in sub- Saharan Africa with whom Israel shares common concerns about Islamic radicalism and terror, and these concerns have led to growing political and security cooperation. The other countries in this cluster include Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Tanzania and South Sudan.

Jonathan’s visit here, the first ever by a sitting Nigerian president, indicates the closeness of that cooperation. It also comes on the eve of Nigeria assuming a two-year seat in January – for the second time since 2010 – as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council.

While Netanyahu belittled Iran’s characterization of “useful talks” recently, the Islamic Republic’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi met in Vienna Monday with IAEA head Yukiya Amano and said he made proposals and offered a “a new approach” to easing international concerns about the Iranian nuclear program.

UN inspectors want to resume an investigation, long stymied by Iranian non-cooperation, into the “possible military dimensions” of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.

Araqchi said he had had “very useful” discussions with Amano and had made proposals to him to be addressed in detail by senior IAEA and Iranian experts later in the day.

“I am very hopeful that we can come out with a good result,” Araqchi told reporters in Vienna.

“It is very important for all of us that we can show concrete progress,” Amano said, seated across a table from Araqchi at IAEA headquarters as the talks began.

“We think this is the time to take a new approach to resolving [questions] between Iran and the IAEA and look to the future for further cooperation in order to ensure the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program,” Araqchi said.

He gave no details, although added, “It is peaceful and it will remain peaceful for ever.”

There was some expectation that Monday’s meeting might lead to some Iranian concessions, perhaps allowing UN inspectors to visit its Parchin military base southeast of Tehran – long an IAEA priority.

Netanyahu has consistently urged the world not to relieve sanctions in response to what he believes will be merely cosmetic Iranian concessions.

The Iran-IAEA talks are in parallel to renewed talks between Iran and the P5+1.

Olli Heinonen, former deputy director of the IAEA now with the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard, said in a conference call with reporters on Monday that the agency and international community should challenge Iran to justify the existence of its heavy-water plutonium reactor in Arak.

Referring to the plant as “rainy day” insurance for the larger Iranian uranium enrichment program, Heinonen said the Arak reactor served no practical civilian nuclear purpose.

Heinonen said that, with the mass production and installation of advanced IR2M centrifuges, Iran could produce enough weapons-grade material from current stockpiles of uranium enriched to 20 percent within one month.

An end to Iran’s higher-grade enrichment of uranium is a central demand of the powers.

Refining uranium to 20% is sensitive as it is a relatively short technical step to raise that to the 90% needed for making a nuclear weapon.

At Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said that the focus on Iran’s concession to cease enrichment of uranium to 20% was cosmetic.

Because of the efficiency of the new centrifuges, uranium enriched to just 3.5% – the heaviest lift in the enrichment process – could be quickly enriched further into weapons grade uranium in roughly eight to 10 weeks.

The production of weapons-grade uranium, enriched beyond 90%, is now a matter of the Iranian government choosing to do so, Heinonen said.

The IAEA inspects Iran’s publicly-acknowledged nuclear plants every month, turning around internal reports shortly after each visit.

Former US director of national intelligence James Clapper has testified before Congress saying that if Iran chose to break out to highly enriched uranium, the US does not believe they would do so at sites under IAEA monitor.

Meanwhile, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, responding to a recent report from the Institute for Science and International Security claiming that Iran will be capable of efficient nuclear breakout within a month, said Monday “We would know if Iran were at a point where this was the next step.

“We maintain our own assessments” on time-frames, Psaki said. “That’s what we rely on. We continue to closely monitor the Iranian process and its stockpile of enriched uranium.”

Reuters contributed to this report.

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