Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Sunday against the emerging nuclear deal with Iran, as Iranian and Western officials in Lausanne, Switzerland were rushing to reach a framework agreement by an end-of-month deadline.
“After the Beirut-Damascus-Baghdad axis, Iran is maneuvering from the south to take over the entire Middle East,” Netanyahu said at a cabinet meeting, one of the last for his outgoing government. “The Iran-Lausanne-Yemen axis is dangerous for mankind and must be stopped.”
Netanyahu told ministers that he had spoken with Republican leaders in the US Senate and “conveyed our serious concern regarding the arrangement with Iran at the nuclear talks. This agreement confirms all our fears and exceeds them.
“While [world powers] convene to sign this deal, Iran’s proxies in Yemen are conquering large swaths of land in an effort to overtake the Bab al-Mandab straits, so that they can change the balance of power in shipping oil,” he said, referring to recent unrest in Yemen.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon also called the emerging deal with Iran “a very bad deal.” Turning Iran into a nuclear threshold state, he said Sunday, “would be nothing less than a tragedy for the moderate regimes in the Middle East and the entire Western world.”
“You don’t need to be an intelligence officer to see Iran is lying barefacedly, and is today the greatest danger to the stability of the Middle East,” he said.
The United States and Iran have moved close to agreement on key aspects of a nuclear deal but some problems remain four days ahead of a target date for an initial agreement, officials said Sunday.
Two officials told The Associated Press that Iran has tentatively agreed to limit the number of machines it could use to enrich uranium to 6,000 — or even less — at its main site.
Diplomats are in Switzerland for talks ahead of a March 31 target for the outline of a final deal to be negotiated by the end of June.
The officials said Iran has agreed to ship out all enriched uranium it produces to Russia. Enriched uranium can be used to make the fissile core of a nuclear weapon.
They said problems remain on the length of any restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program, monitoring Tehran’s compliance and other issues.
The officials demanded anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the confidential talks.
US Secretary of State John Kerry canceled plans to return to the United States for an event honoring his late Senate colleague Edward Kennedy in order to remain at the ongoing talks in Switzerland.
Israeli officials reiterated their concerns over the emerging deal on Sunday, warning that the reported terms would not do enough to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
Interior Minister Gilad Erdan, one of the top members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, said that while Western powers and Iran may be about to shake hands on an agreement in the coming days, there could still be time to influence the terms of the final deal, due by the end of June.
“It’s true that a deal is close, and there is a chance that an agreement on basic principles will be reached in the coming days,” Erdan told Army Radio. “But until the final agreement, which is supposed to be signed with Iran by the end of June, there are still a wide range of diplomatic options. If, God forbid, it happens, Israel will also be required to reassess the whole resulting security situation.”
Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz, a confidant of Netanyahu, said that the deal was “full of holes,” and that he hoped US President Barack Obama would keep to his word that “no deal is better than a bad deal.”
Steinitz, in an interview with Army Radio, noted that Iran hadn’t provided adequate explanations to the UN’s nuclear watchdog over the nature of its previous nuclear research.
AP and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report