Netanyahu airs fears of Iran compromise as he meets Kerry in Rome

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu warns the US that a bad deal with Iran is far worse than no deal at all.

Netanyahu and Kerry 370 (photo credit: Avi Ohayon, GPO)
Netanyahu and Kerry 370
(photo credit: Avi Ohayon, GPO)
A bad deal is worse than no deal, if it leaves Iran with the capacity to produce nuclear weapons, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu warned US Secretary of State John Kerry before the two met in Rome on Wednesday.
“I think a partial deal that leaves Iran with these capabilities is a bad deal,” Netanyahu said.
Their conversation was expected to focus in part on a perceived strategic difference between them with regard to disarming Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The meeting lasted for slightly over seven hours and ended close to press time. Their long meeting also dealt with the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and other regional issues.
Israel believes that the international community must continue to pressure Iran economically until it dismantles its nuclear weapons facilities and removes enriched uranium from the country. It fears that the US and other world powers would ease financial pressure against Iran in exchange for an agreement with Tehran in which it would curb but not halt its program.
Kerry tried to reassure Netanyahu that the US would not prematurely remove sanctions.
“We have made clear and we are adamant that words are no substitute for actions.
We will need to know that actions are being taken which make it crystal clear, undeniably clear, fail-safe to the world, that whatever program is pursued is indeed a peaceful program,” Kerry said.
It is vital, he said, for Iran to live up to the standards of other countries that have peaceful nuclear energy programs.
He acknowledged that both he and US President Barack Obama have said that “no deal is better than a bad deal.”
But, he said, “if this can be solved satisfactorily, diplomatically, it is clearly better for everyone. And we are looking for an opportunity to be able to do that.”
Netanyahu clarified that it’s not enough that Iran take some action.
“Iran must not have a nuclear weapons capability, which means that they shouldn’t have centrifuges or enrichment,” Netanyahu said.
“They shouldn’t have a plutonium heavy-water plant, which is used only for nuclear weapons. They should get rid of the advanced fissile material and they shouldn’t have underground nuclear facilities, underground for one reason – for military purposes,” he said.
Netanyahu urged Kerry to apply to Iran the principles he had used with regard to Syrian chemical weapons. The US should refuse to accept a partial deal with Iran, the way it did with Syria, Netanyahu said.
Israel and the US both want a peaceful end to Iran’s nuclear weapons program, Netanyahu said, adding that the best way to achieve that goal was with continued financial pressure.
“I think it’ll be a tragic mistake to stop right before that goal is realized. And I look forward to discussing this issue with you,” Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu remarked that he and Kerry spoke almost every other day about Iran and the renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
As they spoke in Rome, Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz was in Washington to hold a strategic dialogue with US officials on regional issues, including Iran.
Israel has been actively putting out a message on Iran in advance of the six party talks on a diplomatic agreement to halt Iran’s nuclear weapons program, which are scheduled for next week in Geneva. Initial talks between Iran and the six parties — the US, Russia, China, France, Germany and the United Kingdom, were held last week in Geneva as well.
In Washington on Wednesday, State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said that the US has made it clear to the Iranians that “progress needs to happen quickly” after the next round of talks on November 7-8 in Geneva.
Harf said the Obama administration was “not naive” about the hurdle they faced, but she declined to comment on how long the US would give the negotiations process a chance.
“I’m not going to get into a timing game here,” Harf said.
Asked about an upcoming bill in the Senate reinforcing sanctions against Iran’s oil sector, Harf said that the existing sanctions regimen had brought Iran to the negotiating table in the first place.
The next round of talks will be preceded by an “experts meeting” with scientists as well as nuclear and sanctions specialists.
“It’s an important meeting,” Harf said. “Obviously it has to happen fairly soon.”
Speaking before the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in Jerusalem on Wednesday, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said that Iran’s goal in the current round of diplomacy with the international community is to hold on to its ability to independently enrich uranium, and that such an outcome is unacceptable to Israel.
“They’re striving to keep their ability to independently enrich uranium; this is unacceptable from our perspective, as this is the way to mislead and hoodwink [the international community], as they’ve done in the past,” Ya’alon said.
Israel’s position is that an easing of sanctions must happen only if it follows a clear sign of Iranian willingness to give up on independent enrichment, do away with its plutonium program and remove the enriched uranium already in Iran’s possession, the defense minister added.
“We’re trying to have an influence through open channels, not only with the Americans, but also with other members of the P5+1 members, so that there really will be an efficient utilization of economic sanctions, to really bring the Iranian regime to decide between having a bomb or the survival of the regime,” Ya’alon said.
Should the diplomatic and economic measures fail, Israel must be ready to defend itself, by itself, he added.
The Iranian threat remains the number one strategic challenge facing Israel today, Ya’alon stated.
He reiterated his concern that, following the renewal of diplomacy with Iran, the international community may “be tempted to be impressed by the Iranian charm offensive and give in to the regime. We’ve learned in the past how this regime knows how to cheat, to dupe and mislead the West, despite decisions by the Security Council under the supervision of the IAEA.”
Israel’s position on this issue is “very clear,” and “has been made clear to our friends as well: What we’re seeing at the moment from Iran, including the political change and change in its willingness to negotiate with the US, is a significant change that stems from efficient economic pressure against the Iranian regime,” Ya’alon said.
The change came from Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, “who actually takes the decisions,” and who concluded that in order to survive, he must talk to the Americans.”
Khamenei has been forced to make a few concessions in his nuclear program, but the Iranian intention is not to give up on the nuclear option, Ya’alon continued.
Addressing Syria, Ya’alon said that as of now, the Assad regime is meeting its commitment to disband its chemical weapons program, but he cautioned that the “test will be in the end result. Will he try to hide [chemical arms], or will he try to hide some sort of chemical capability that will remain in his hands? Time will tell.”
Israel is monitoring this issue and maintaining its redlines on Syria, which forbids the transfer of advanced arms from Syria to Hezbollah and the transfer of chemical weapons. There has been no attempt to date to move chemical weapons to Hezbollah, Ya’alon added.
The Syrian civil war continues to rage, though weekly casualty rates have dropped from 1,000 war deaths to 600, he said, briefing the committee.
“I estimate that there will not be a political solution in Syria,” he said.