Arab nations have joined Israel in expressing concern over the emerging details of a US-led international nuclear deal with Iran, indicating in private talks with US officials that they are worried about the apparent terms of the agreement, the Wall Street Journal reported Saturday.
Though Arab officials have been careful not to side with Israel in their stated positions, their worries over the possibility of a nuclear-armed Tehran are in fact similar to those of Jerusalem, and their attitudes towards the current state of nuclear talks between Tehran and Western powers are similarly pessimistic, according to the report.
Leaders of Sunni states such as Egypt, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia fear a bad deal with Tehran would allow it, with the removal of sanctions, to become a nuclear threshold state, the WSJ reported. They say it could also lead to a nuclear arms race in the region.
“At this stage, we prefer a collapse of the diplomatic process to a bad deal,” an official from an unnamed Arab nation told the paper.
Arab officials have also reportedly held discussions with the US over the possibility of Washington placing their countries under its “nuclear umbrella” — a guarantee to take military, even nuclear, action to protect an allied state under certain circumstances.
The WSJ report came amid news that US President Barack Obama will meet next week with the leader of Qatar, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, to discuss shared concerns over stability and prosperity in the Middle East.
Obama, meanwhile, has refused to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he visits Washington in early March, citing the trip’s proximity to Israel’s March 17 elections. Netanyahu is to speak to Congress against what he says is an imminent deal, pushed by US-led negotiators, that could legitimize Iran as a nuclear threshold state.
Netanyahu said Friday that a UN report critical of Iran’s evasiveness over its nuclear program was further proof that the international community should reconsider the direction of its negotiations with Tehran.
“The IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) report again demonstrates that Iran refuses to come clean to the international community about its preparations for producing nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said. World powers should not be “wooing Iran for its agreement” to a deal that would enable it to continue uranium enrichment, he said.
The IAEA report stated that Tehran was being evasive and ambiguous in its dealings with the UN’s nuclear watchdog agency, preventing the organization from launching a thorough assessment of the country’s nuclear program.
The US and five other powers insist that Tehran must fully cooperate with the IAEA’s probe for any nuclear agreement that grants Iran total sanctions relief. “Iran has not provided any explanations” on the suspicions that it tried to develop nuclear weapons, according to a confidential copy of the IAEA report obtained by The Associated Press. The agency did note that Iran was honoring commitments to put temporary restraints on its atomic activities as it negotiates on the long-term nuclear deal.
Netanyahu has long been opposed to the apparent deal taking shape in talks with Iran. The prime minister believes that the Iranians are negotiating in bad faith and that world powers are walking into a bad deal which would allow Tehran to come very close to a bomb while removing all sanctions on the regime.
Netanyahu said Thursday that he knows the details of the deal being forged with Iran over its nuclear program, asking “What is there to hide?” after the US said it was withholding some information from Israel on the talks.
His remarks came a day after the Obama administration publicly acknowledged it is keeping some specifics from Israel because it fears the close US ally has leaked sensitive information to try to scuttle the talks — and will continue to do so.
“We know that Tehran knows the details of the talks. Now I tell you that Israel also knows the details of the proposed agreement,” Netanyahu said. “I think this is a bad agreement that is dangerous for the state of Israel, and not only for it.”
US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki on Thursday questioned Netanyahu’s claim to knowing the details of the deal. “Then the fact is that he knows more than the negotiators, in that there is no deal yet,” she said. “Obviously, if there’s a deal we’ll be explaining the deal and explaining why and how it prevents Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. And if that’s the case and we come to a deal, it’s hard to see how anyone wouldn’t see that’s to the benefit of the international community,” she said.
Israel views a nuclear-armed Iran as a threat to its very existence, citing Tehran’s repeated calls for Israel’s destruction, its long-range missile program and its support for anti-Israel terror groups like Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Iran insists that its nuclear program is for purely civilian purposes.
Netanyahu’s National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen is in Washington for talks with top US officials, despite the strains between the allies. On Wednesday, he met with Obama’s senior Iran negotiator Wendy Sherman, and Kerry made an unscheduled stop at their session, evidently to indicate that communication between the two leaderships was still continuing at senior levels.
Iran’s and America’s top nuclear officials joined seven-nation talks Saturday in a move that may help resolve technical disputes standing it the way of the deal.
Technical experts for Iran and the six nations it is negotiating with have been meeting alongside senior political officials. But Saturday was the first time that Iranian Atomic Energy chief Ali Akbar Salehi and US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz also joined in.
Western officials say the US decided to send Moniz only after Iran announced that Salehi will be coming. Still, their presence could improve chances of a deal by fast-tracking complex technical details of constraints on Iran’s nuclear programs that are acceptable to Tehran.
They were expected to discuss the number of centrifuges Iran can operate to enrich uranium; how much enriched material it can stockpile; what research and development it may pursue related to enrichment, and the future of a planned heavy water reactor that could produce substantial amounts of plutonium — like enriched uranium, a potential pathway to nuclear arms.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is also at the talks, with US Secretary of State John Kerry scheduled to join Sunday and Monday.
AP and AFP contributed to this report.