(photo credit: REUTERS)
With Israel concerned the world powers and Iran might indeed meet Monday’s deadline for a nuclear agreement, Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz called on Thursday for closing two huge loopholes that could enable Iran to race toward a nuclear weapon.
Steinitz, at a press briefing organized by the Israel Project, stressed two points he said were not the focus of the current talks and were considered secondary issues, “but if not properly handled may make any agreement meaningless.”
The first point is to prevent Tehran from including in the agreement permission to proceed with research and development of a generation of more advanced centrifuges. If these advanced centrifuges are indeed built, it would dramatically shorten the time it would take Iran to dash to the nuclear finish line, reducing the time needed to build a bomb after “breakout” from 12 months to two or three months.
“This loophole should be closed,” Steinitz said. “They can’t be permitted to complete research and development on more efficient centrifuges.”
The other loophole that needed to be addressed, he said, had to be to include measures preventing any nuclear cooperation with North Korea or other “rogue states.”
Steinitz said Israel was concerned about possible nuclear cooperation between Iran and North Korea. “If this loophole is not closed, and if Iran under an agreement can have some kind of research and development, knowledge exchange and participation in other countries like North Korea, then this is also the way to bypass an agreement by simply not doing it alone in Iran, but by cooperating with North Korea or other rogue countries.”
Not wanting to go into specifics, the minister said there were good reasons for Israel’s concern, adding that North Korea has been heavily involved in other clandestine and illegal nuclear projects in the region, specifically in Syria a few years back.
“We all know that Iran, Syria and North Korea are very close to each other.”
Steinitz repeated a message that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has been voicing for weeks, urging the US and the other members of the P5+1 – Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany – not to sign a “bad deal” with Iran, even if that means that no agreement will be signed. The Iranians have made almost no concession on the core issue of giving up their ability to enrich uranium, Steinitz said.
Regarding the scenario that the November 24 deadline will pass without an agreement, and that – for the third time in a year – another deadline will be set, Steinitz said that while Israel “would not like it,” it would be preferable to an agreement that would enshrine Iranians status as a nuclear threshold state.
Rolling over the deadline would be helpful if the pressure on the Iranian economy would then be increased, he said. “You simply have to apply more pressure to help those inside Iran say, ‘We have no choice, we have to choose – if we want to save the economy, we have to give away the military nuclear infrastructure... We cannot have them both.’”