'Signing of bad Iran deal seems imminent, but Israel will still lobby to toughen accord'

Steinitz, in France to influence Iran deal, says until agreement is completed "we will point to specific loopholes and difficulties."

March 23, 2015 14:09
4 minute read.
Iran Lausanne nuclear

Iran's FM Zarif (C on left) and head of the AEO of Iran Salehi (C on right) with colleagues in Lausanne March 19, 2015 . (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Monday it was probable that the world powers and Iran would agree a “bad deal” over Iran’s nuclear program, but he would still lobby to toughen any accord before talks resume this week.

“We think it’s going to be a bad, insufficient deal,” Steinitz told Reuters in an interview before meeting French officials in Paris. “It seems quite probable it will happen unfortunately.”

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France, the United States and four other world powers suspended talks with Iran in Switzerland on Friday and are to reconvene this week to try to break the deadlock over Tehran’s atomic research and the lifting of sanctions before a March 31 deadline for a framework deal.

Steinitz arrived in Paris Sunday night, accompanied by National Security Council head Yossi Cohen and several other intelligence officials.

He met Monday with Nicolas De Riviere, the chief French negotiator in the talks. He also held several other meetings with French security and intelligence agencies. He did not meet Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who is abroad until Tuesday. Steinitz is scheduled to stay in Paris until Tuesday, “unless there are any major changes.”

Steinitz’s visit comes amid reports that France was preventing a P5+1 approval or a political framework agreement with Iran, largely over the issue of when to lift sanctions.

French officials claimed yesterday that the sanctions were the main, but not the only point of disagreement between Paris and Washington.

Israeli sources said Jerusalem hoped French objection to the American position would prevent reaching a political framework agreement by the March 31 deadline.

“Although we are against a deal in general, until it is completed we will point to specific loopholes and difficulties,” Steinitz said prior to his meetings. He said two fundamental issues that needed to be toughened up were the number of centrifuges, and any potential capacity Iran is given to pursue research and development.

“In this [accord] you are getting a robust and complicated deal that enables Iran to preserve capabilities and allow it to remain a threshold nuclear state,” he said.

Meanwhile a veto-proof bipartisan majority of 367 House members sent a letter to President Barack Obama underscoring key conditions for a nuclear agreement with Iran. The letter was initiated by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-California) and ranking Democrat Eliot Engel (D-New York), and released by the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“A final comprehensive nuclear agreement must constrain Iran’s nuclear infrastructure so that Iran has no pathway to a bomb, and that agreement must be long-lasting,” the letter read.

It also stipulated that any nuclear deal would need congressional approval.

“Should an agreement with Iran be reached, permanent sanctions-relief from congressionally-mandated sanctions would require new legislation,” the letter read. “In reviewing such an agreement, Congress must be convinced that its terms foreclose any pathway to a bomb, and only then will Congress be able to consider permanent sanctions relief.”

This letter comes a couple weeks after 47 Republicans caused a political firestorm by writing an open letter to the Iranian leadership saying that any deal with Iran could be rolled back by a future president.

That letter sparked fierce criticism from Democrats, who said it was inappropriate meddling in delicate diplomatic talks and meant to undermine negotiations, and even some Republicans expressed reservations over the tactic.

The House letter lays out lawmakers’ concerns in more diplomatic terms, hitting on the potential time restraints as a key sticking point for a final deal. The emerging deal would lift some restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in a decade, which critics say could allow the country to resume its pursuit of a nuclear bomb at that point.

“Any inspection and verification regime must allow for short notice access to suspect locations, and verifiable constraints on Iran’s nuclear program must last for decades.”

The letter stated that “Iran’s record of clandestine activity and intransigence prevents any trust in Iran.”

Given this deception, the lawmakers argued that verifiable restraints on Iran’s nuclear program must last for decades.

The letter also stressed that the potential military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program should be treated as a test of Iran’s intent, and also that the negotiations cannot ignore Iran’s destabilizing role in the region.

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough related to the recent congressional moves, including the Republican letter, saying at J Street’s conference that this was a “blatant political move” and “not how America does its business.”

He said Congress should not “seek to undermine the negotiations before a deal is reached.”

McDonough said that “we are pursing a political arrangement with Iran that does not require congressional approval, and that such deals are an essential, long-standing element of international diplomacy.”

He said that legislation that would strip Obama of authority to wave sanctions, would “embolden hard-liners in Iran, separate the United States from our allies, and potentially fracture the international unity that has been essential to keeping this pressure on Iran.”

This legislation, he said, “could cause the United States to be blamed if diplomacy fails.” It would also “set a very damaging precedent” by limiting the ability of future presidents to conduct essential diplomatic negotiations.

Should the legislation pass, he said, Obama would veto it.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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