Israel rebuffs alleged Iranian nuclear offer

Official: P5+1 in position of strength going into latest nuke talks; warns against any offer including partial halt of Tehran's nuke program.

Natanz nuclear facility_311 reuters (photo credit: STR New / Reuters)
Natanz nuclear facility_311 reuters
(photo credit: STR New / Reuters)
Israel will “strongly oppose” a proposal that world powers are “examining” regarding Iran’s nuclear program, senior Israeli officials said Wednesday night.
According to the officials – who said the proposal calls for Tehran to stop uranium enrichment to 20 percent and slow work on its hard-water reactor in exchange for sanctions relief – Jerusalem views this as a “bad deal.”
The officials’ comments came on the eve of talks set to begin Thursday in Geneva between Iran and the P5+1, made up of the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany.
The officials said that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani himself had admitted that a country that retains the ability to enrich uranium to 3.5% has the capability to build a bomb.
Israel is calling on the P5+1 to adamantly oppose any Iranian uranium enrichment.
Israel’s assessment is that the current sanctions are hurting Iran, putting the P5+1 in a “very strong” negotiating position.
According to this assessment, the P5+1 is now in a position to compel Iran to cease all enrichment, dismantle the centrifuges and end all work on the heavy water reactor at Arak.
The US hopes to come out of the talks with an enforceable interim agreement by the end of the week.
A day ahead of the discussion, one US official said that the Obama administration wants to put “additional time on the clock” to stave off a crisis.
“What we’re looking for is a first phase, a first step, an initial understanding that stops Iran’s nuclear program from moving forward and rolls it back for the first time in decades,” a senior administration official told reporters on Wednesday.
Washington would be willing to offer Iran “very limited, temporary, reversible sanctions relief” in return for meaningful and verifiable concessions from the Iranians, the official said.
The P5+1 negotiators are set to reenter talks after the first round produced mixed results.
The US and Iranian governments called the discussions constructive at the time, but the Russian delegation said that the conference was no more fruitful than failed multilateral efforts from years past.
“We will not make a bad deal, if a deal can be made at all,” Kerry said in Jerusalem, sitting alongside Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu after meeting with him to discuss Iran and the Middle East peace process.
Stakes are high for the talks, as lawmakers in Washington are threatening a punishing new sanctions bill targeting Iran’s oil sector and foreign exchange reserves should the P5+1 fail to secure a deal in short order.
“I would really want to see something significant by the end of [this] week,” Senator Robert Menendez, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, told The Jerusalem Post in a phone interview.
Iran’s top negotiator said on Tuesday that a framework deal with world powers on its nuclear program was “possible this week,” but warned to keep expectations in check.
“I believe there is a lot of work to be done,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told France 24 television during a visit to Paris. “We have made some progress, but there is a great deal of mistrust in Iran concerning the attitude, behavior and approach of some members of the P5+1. If we don’t make a breakthrough at this round, it’s not a disaster.”
On the eve of the talks, Netanyahu used the photo op with Kerry to again urge the P5+1 not to give Iran any sanctions relief.
Netanyahu stressed that the “death to America” chants that reverberated through the streets of Tehran earlier this week, on the 34th anniversary of the siege of the US embassy, reflected the true face of that nation’s leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“I think this attitude, buttressed by a policy of terror worldwide – supporting Hezbollah, Hamas and all the forces that are against peace, and which is participating in the mass murder in Syria – I think such a regime must not have the world’s most dangerous weapon,” he said.
Netanyahu said that as long as Iran continues to enrich uranium, the sanctions pressure should be maintained and even increased.
Israel is seeking a “full, peaceful dismantling of Iran’s nuclear weapons capabilities – end of all enrichment, end of all centrifuges, and end of the plutonium reactor,” he said.
“If this is achieved, I welcome it. I’d be very wary of any partial deals that enable Iran to maintain those capabilities but begin to reduce sanctions, because this could undermine the longevity and durability of the sanctions regime.”
Kerry said America’s goal on Iran was that it only have a “peaceful nuclear program.”
He said it was “incumbent on the world to know with certainty that it is a peaceful program and there is no capacity to produce a weapon of mass destruction. That is our goal.”
Washington’s Institute for Science and International Security released a report this week outlining what would be required of an interim agreement to have a meaningful effect on the progress of the program.
In the report, David Albright said that Iran would have to halt the manufacturing and installation of new, super-efficient IR2M centrifuges, disable those already installed, and disable all centrifuges at their Fordow mountain facility outside Qom. It would also have to not only halt enrichment of uranium to 20%, but convert existing stockpiles of uranium already enriched to that level into gas form.
Construction and fueling of their heavy water plutonium reactor in Arak – effectively an insurance plan for their uranium enrichment program – would have to stop in its tracks, the report added. And international monitors would have to be given unfettered, daily access to all their facilities in order to ensure that all conditions of the deal are being adhered to.
Iran’s government says it considers uranium enrichment an “inalienable right,” representing perhaps the greatest hurdle in the negotiations process.
Reuters contributed to this report.