Final-status nuclear talks between six world powers and Iran are set to kick off in Geneva on Tuesday, but some Israeli officials fear Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-line stance may have left it unable to wield any influence among negotiators.
According to a senior diplomatic official quoted in Maariv Monday, Netanyahu’s demands that a permanent Iranian nuclear deal require the Islamic Republic to dismantle all centrifuges and have no enrichment capability are unrealistic and serve only to undermine any influence Israel may have on the negotiations.
“There is no real dialogue,” the unnamed official said. “The position that Netanyahu established is final and we cannot waver from it. Therefore, there is no real chance to influence the negotiations.”
Nonetheless, Israel has recently stepped up efforts to steer the talks, which will aim to curb Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief.
National Security Council Head Yossi Cohen met last week with European External Action Service Deputy Secretary General for Political Affairs Helga Schmid and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in Brussels to lay down the Israeli position.
US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, the US chief negotiator, is expected to visit Israel on Sunday to brief the government on the status of the negotiations.
In the talks, the six powers — US, UK, Russia,China, France and Germany — are expected to direct Iran to reduce its centrifuge stockpile to less than 5,000 and close its Qom nuclear reactor, according to a report by the Institute for Science and International Security released last month.
The Islamic Republic currently has 18,000 centrifuges installed, 10,000 of which are activated. Iran is expected to demand continued enrichment and preservation of a larger number of centrifuges in the course of the talks.
However, Netanyahu’s position has been that the world not allow any nuclear activity on Iran’s part.
“Iran is continuing with advanced research and development of centrifuges. Iran is not prepared to concede even one centrifuge,” he said at a cabinet meeting Sunday. “Israel’s policy is clear and is active on two tracks: First, to expose Iran’s unchanging aggressive policy. Second, to demand the dismantling of Iran’s enrichment capacity. Iran does not need any centrifuges for nuclear power for civilian purposes.”
The prime minister’s stance, which constitutes Israel’s official policy on the subject, came under fire a few weeks ago in a meeting on the public diplomacy regarding the talks. In the discussion, a National Security Council representative suggested revising the formal position, in light of information that the negotiating countries are not even considering demanding complete dismantlement, according to Maariv. However, he was informed by Netanyahu’s representatives that this position constitutes both Israel’s public relations strategy and its political diplomatic approach and would not be changed.
This was confirmed by a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office to the newspaper.
“Israel’s public relations effort derives from the clear-cut [political] diplomacy Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu established according to which Iran, the largest terror state, must not have the capability of making a nuclear weapon. The prime minister explicitly said this means zero centrifuges and the dismantlement of Iran’s other enrichment capabilities,” the statement read.
The nuclear deal talks are aimed at reaching a comprehensive accord on Iran on its controversial nuclear program following an interim deal in November.
However, EU diplomats and Iranian officials have of late expressed their doubts that a final deal with Iran will be secured.
Iran’s top decision-maker Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Monday that while he is not against a resumption of nuclear negotiations with the world’s major powers, the talks will “lead nowhere.”
“Some of the officials of the previous government as well as the officials of this government think the problem will be resolved if they negotiate the nuclear issue,” Khamenei said in remarks published on his website, Khamenei.ir.
“I repeat it again that I am not optimistic about the negotiations and they will lead nowhere, but I am not against them,” he added.
Under the interim deal reached on November 24, Iran agreed to freeze some nuclear activities for six months in exchange for modest sanctions relief and a promise by Western powers not to impose new restrictions on its hard-hit economy.
Western powers and Israel have long suspected Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons capability alongside its civilian program, charges denied by Tehran.
AFP and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.