Iran receives US response to nuclear deal draft, Lapid decries deal

PM Lapid said that Israel would not be obligated by any nuclear deal made with Iran.

 Members of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) navy participate in a joint exercise called the 'Great Prophet 17', in the southwest of Iran, in this picture obtained on December 22, 2021.  (photo credit: IRGC/WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Handout via REUTERS)
Members of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) navy participate in a joint exercise called the 'Great Prophet 17', in the southwest of Iran, in this picture obtained on December 22, 2021.
(photo credit: IRGC/WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Handout via REUTERS)

Iran received the US government’s response to the latest demands from Tehran in nuclear negotiations via the talks’ EU coordinator on Wednesday.

Tehran made the demands last week after the EU tabled what it said was a final draft of the agreement. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani said the Islamic Republic began a “detailed review of the American side’s comments and… will announce its views in this regard to the coordinator after completing the review.”

Prime Minister Yair Lapid earlier Wednesday said US President Joe Biden would not be fulfilling his commitment to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon if it joins the Iran deal as it stands.

“In our eyes, [the Iran deal] does not meet the standards set by President Biden himself: preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear state,” he said.

At the same time, Lapid said the US and Israel maintain an open dialogue.

“I appreciate their willingness to listen and work together,” he said. “The United States is and will remain our closest ally, and President Biden is one of the best friends Israel has ever known.”

In recent days Lapid also spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, whose countries are parties to the Iran talks. He said he has a “close, almost daily, dialogue with the UK.”

“I told them these negotiations have reached the point where they must stop and say, ‘Enough,’” Lapid said.

Israeli officials also have recently discussed the deal with its other non-Iran parties, Russia and China.

Rather than accept or reject the supposedly final draft, Iran made more demands and called for additional concessions, Lapid said.

“This is not the first time this has happened,” he said. “The countries of the West draw a red line, the Iranians ignore it, and the red line moves.”

A renewed nuclear deal will free up $100 billion annually for Iran to spend on spreading instability and terrorism around the globe, Lapid said.

$100 bn. a year to fund terrorism and nuclear program

“On the table right now is a bad deal; it would give Iran $100b. a year,” he said in a briefing to the foreign press. “This $100b. a year will be used to undermine stability in the Middle East and spread terror around the globe.

 Prime Minister Yair Lapid briefs foreign press on the Iran Deal and Israel's opposition to it. (credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO) Prime Minister Yair Lapid briefs foreign press on the Iran Deal and Israel's opposition to it. (credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

"[$100 bn. freed up a year] will be used to strengthen Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad."

Prime Minister Yair Lapid

“This money will fund the Revolutionary Guards… It will fund more attacks on American bases in the Middle East. It will be used to strengthen Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. This money will go to the people who are trying to kill authors and thinkers in New York. And, of course, it will be used to strengthen Iran’s nuclear program.”

The removal of sanctions on the banking sector in Iran will free up “financial institutions designated today as supporting terrorism,” allowing them to launder money and help other countries to evade sanctions, Lapid said.

Russia is eyeing Iran as a conduit to circumvent international sanctions and sell crude oil, Politico reported earlier on Wednesday.

Iranian officials have said they would not join the nuclear deal until the International Atomic Energy Agency closes its investigation into traces of enriched uranium found outside of declared nuclear sites. IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi, however, said the probes will not end until Iran provides satisfactory answers to his agency’s inquiries.

Lapid said acceding to Iran’s demands endangers the IAEA’s independence.

“It creates huge political pressure on them to close open cases without completing a professional investigation,” he said.

Iran’s other demand in response to the “final” EU draft was that future US presidents will not be able to leave the deal as Donald Trump did in 2018.

However, Biden cannot legally make that commitment. Iran also seeks guarantees that Western corporations will do business with the Islamic Republic, having been disappointed in their reluctance to do so after 2015.

Lapid reiterated that Israel would not be obligated by a deal if it is signed.

“We will act to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear state,” he said. “We are not prepared to live with a nuclear threat above our heads from an extremist, violent Islamist regime. This will not happen because we will not let it happen.”

National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata met with his American counterpart, Jake Sullivan, in Washington on Tuesday.

“Sullivan underscored President Biden’s steadfast commitment to preserve and strengthen Israel’s capability to deter its enemies and to defend itself by itself against any threat or combination of threats, including from Iran and Iranian-backed proxies; and our commitment to ensure Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon,” the White House said in a statement.

They also discussed Biden’s trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia and “exchanged views on advancing regional integration and normalization with the Arab world,” it said.

They “discussed plans for the upcoming US-Israel Strategic High-Level Dialogue on Technology, and ways to expand and enhance bilateral cooperation on critical and emerging technologies to further solutions to address global challenges,” it added.

“Sullivan also stressed the need to take continued steps to improve the lives of Palestinians, which are critical to peace, security and prosperity,” the White House said.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz is expected to meet with Sullivan on Friday.

Gantz said he plans to “send a clear message about the negotiations between world powers and Iran about the nuclear agreement: An agreement that will not roll Iran’s capabilities back by years and leave it limited for many years is a danger that will harm world and regional security.”

The defense minister called to “disconnect the funding of its emissaries in the region from the Iranian [currency] rial pipeline.”

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu said the Iran deal being negotiated was “horrible” and “even worse than the first one.” It creates a “golden, paved highway to a nuclear arsenal” that is “a threat to the peace of the world,” he said.

“If Iran has nuclear weapons, they don’t merely threaten my country or America’s allies in the Middle East, they directly threaten your country because they are simultaneously developing nuclear weapons while developing means to deliver them across continents,” Netanyahu told Fox News. “So you can have Iran governed by these fanatic ayatollahs who will hold every American city hostage to nuclear weapons.”

If elected prime minister again, he said, Israel “will take whatever action is necessary to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. That’s my commitment.”

In a later press event in Hebrew, Netanyahu said no agreement could stop Iran’s nuclear program. Only sanctions and credible military threats or action stopped the nuclear programs in Syria, Iraq and Libya, while there was no military threat to North Korea, he said.

Netanyahu criticized Lapid and former prime minister Naftali Bennett for their “scandalous” agreement with the Biden administration not to campaign against an Iran deal and to discuss the matter primarily behind closed doors.

“The US doesn’t work that way,” he said. “If you can’t influence public opinion, you can’t influence the US.”

Netanyahu said if he returns to office, he will launch an international public-diplomacy campaign against the Iran deal and will bring back Israel’s “total freedom of action as a sovereign state, not a vassal of the US,” in contrast with Bennett and Lapid, who agreed to “no surprises.”

The 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action lifted sanctions on Iran in exchange for limitations on its nuclear program. Those restrictions expire over time, ending in 2030. Limits on the manufacture of advanced centrifuges are due to expire next year. The deal does not address Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism, proxy warfare, ballistic-missile program or other malign actions.

Iran far surpassed the JCPOA’s restrictions for stockpiling and enriching uranium, enriching to 60% purity, when only 3.25% is permitted. Weapons-grade uranium is 90% enriched.

The renewed deal, as drafted by the EU, does not extend the JCPOA’s nonproliferation benefits while offering the same sanctions relief as in 2015.

US National Security Council spokesman Jack Kirby said in a press conference that the US has “communicated to Iran, both in public and private, that it must answer the IAEA questions. It's the only way to address those concerns. Our position on that is not going to change." 

Omri Nahmias contributed to this report.