Netanyahu shifts to backroom diplomacy on Iran deal

PM to send team to DC to discuss permanent accord; Obama reaffirms "shared goal of preventing" nuclear weaponized Iran.

Netanyahu and Obama 370 (photo credit: JASON REED / REUTERS)
Netanyahu and Obama 370
(photo credit: JASON REED / REUTERS)
While continuing to slam the Geneva interim agreement between Iran and the P5+1, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu shifted gears on Monday and began focusing on ways to impact the comprehensive agreement that now needs to be worked out.
Netanyahu, who spoke with US President Barack Obama Sunday about the agreement, said at a Likud faction meeting in the Knesset on Monday that he and Obama agreed an Israeli team headed by National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen would leave for the US shortly to discuss the permanent agreement.
Sunday’s accord is a six-month agreement with an option to extend, meant to limit the Iranian nuclear program as the P5+1 – the US, UK, Russia, China, France and Germany – try to hammer out a comprehensive accord with Iran. In return, Iran received some sanctions relief.
The permanent agreement, Netanyahu said, must lead to one result: “The dismantling of Iran’s military nuclear capability.”
“I would be happy if I could join those voices around the world that are praising the Geneva agreement,” Netanyahu said. “It is true that the international pressure which we applied was partly successful and has led to a better result than what was originally planned, but this is still a bad deal. It reduces the pressure on Iran without receiving anything tangible in return, and the Iranians who laughed all the way to the bank are themselves saying that this deal has saved them.”
That being said, diplomatic officials clarified that Jerusalem was well aware the agreement is a done deal, and that now the focus will be on “what happens down the line.”
“Israel intends to be a player,” an official said, first and foremost in consultations with the US, but also with the other members of the P5+1.
While the Prime Minister’s Office gave out no information about the Obama- Netanyahu phone call, the White House issued a readout saying the two leaders “reaffirmed their shared goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”
According to the statement, Obama “underscored that the United States will remain firm in our commitment to Israel, which has good reason to be skeptical about Iran’s intentions.”
The decision to send the team to Washington, as well as Netanyahu’s slightly toned down rhetoric on the agreement on Monday, indicates that the tactics on how to impact the permanent accord are shifting from the strident public diplomacy of the last two weeks – that saw Netanyahu launch a very public full-court press against the accord – to more quiet backroom diplomacy to impact the outcome.
The focus will now be on what has to be done, not what happened up until now, one official said.
Israel will seek to impact on the parameters of a future agreement, as well as what happens at the end of six months if no agreement is reached.
Israel’s position is that – in any permanent agreement – Iran must dismantle its centrifuges, transfer out of the country its stockpiles of enriched uranium, close the uranium enrichment facility at Fordow and stop work on the heavy water reactor at Arak.
The Geneva agreement, known formally as a Joint Plan of Action, leaves wiggle room for the six-month deadline, stating that the deal is “renewable by mutual consent.” Jerusalem is keen on ensuring that any wiggle room is limited, and that the negotiation on a comprehensive accord does not carry on endlessly.
Speaking to the Likud faction, Netanyahu said he wanted to remind the MKs that “only last week, during the talks, the leaders of Iran repeated their commitment to destroy the State of Israel, and I reiterate here today my commitment, as prime minister of Israel, to prevent them from achieving the ability to do so.”
UK Foreign Secretary William Hague seemed to respond to these words, and their hint at possible military action, by telling the British parliament that “we would discourage anybody in the world, including Israel, from taking any steps that would undermine this agreement and we will make that very clear to all concerned.”
Hague, who gave an update on the nuclear talks in Geneva, said he had not seen any signs that any country opposed to the agreement would try to disrupt it “in any practical way,” but said Britain would be “on its guard.”
In a related development, Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz met on Monday with European ambassadors and said while Israel was disappointed with the Geneva agreement, it hoped that the final agreement would obligate Iran to dismantle its capacity to develop nuclear weapons.
Reuters contributed to this report.