Lapid urges West to ‘carry a big stick’ when dealing with Syria, Iran
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Lapid urges West to ‘carry a big stick’ when dealing with Syria, Iran

Finance minister says that Tehran, despite softened rhetoric, must realize world ‘will not be silent’ about its nuclear program

Aaron Kalman is a former writer and breaking news editor for the Times of Israel

Finance Minister Yair Lapid, in rare comments on Syria and Iran, made it clear Tuesday that Western diplomatic initiatives could only prove effective if they were backed up by a credible military threat.

Speaking about the ongoing civil war in Syria and a recently brokered deal to remove and eventually destroy the country’s chemical weapons, the finance minister told CNN that “unless there is a credible threat, all the negotiations are just empty words.” Diplomacy, he stated, wasn’t enough. “It won’t be over until all weapons of mass destruction will be out of Syria,” he said.

“If you want to negotiate you’d better have a big stick in your hand,” Lapid continued, noting that, “in this case, a big Tomahawk” cruise missile was the “stick” that should be carried by the West. He said that in the Middle East, carrots were ineffective on their own.

Lapid said having a regime such as that of Syria, which “is willing to use weapons of mass destruction,” on Israel’s border posed a problem for Israel, as it would, he observed, for any country in a similar situation.

He said Iran — which Israel and the West suspect is hard at work developing a nuclear weapons capability — should realize, like Syria, that the world “will not be silent when regimes and dictatorships are gathering weapons of mass destruction while intending to use them.”

Asked about recently elected Iranian President Hasan Rouhani’s apparent openess to a “more moderate” foreign policy and readiness to talk about his country’s nuclear program, Lapid said he welcomed the new rhetoric, but wanted to see action.

According to a report Monday in the German news magazine Der Spiegel, Iran is willing to close its uranium enrichment facility at Fordo, near Qom, in return for an easing of Western sanctions.

Rejoicing and celebrating, Lapid said, should wait until “the reactor in Qom will be closed, when [Iran] will stop enriching uranium, when they take off the enriched uranium they already have.” If all that happened, “we can dance Hallelujah,” said the minister.

Lapid’s rhetoric on Iran echoed that of his boss, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who on Tuesday announced that he will meet US President Barack Obama in Washington next week, with the talks to focus on Iran.

“In a week and a half, I will go to the United Nations General Assembly, and before that I will meet with President Obama. I intend to focus on stopping Iranian nuclear program. Really stopping the nuclear program,” Netanyahu said at a cabinet meeting Tuesday.

The prime minister presented four criteria for doing so: ”1. Halting all uranium enrichment; 2. Removing all enriched uranium; 3. Closing [the Fordo enrichment facility at] Qom; and 4. Stopping the plutonium track.”

Evidently responding to suggestions that the US might be willing to lift or reduce some sanctions on Iran in return for diplomatic progress, Netanyahu added: “Until it is genuinely stopped, the pressure on Iran must be stepped up, not eased or reduced.”

During his interview with CNN Tuesday, Lapid also discussed the Palestinians, saying low expectations surrounding the ongoing negotiations between Israel and the PA could actually prove helpful.

“The best things are happening when we have low expectations… The fact that everybody is going around and telling each other, ‘this is not going to work, this is not going to happen,’ is actually a good thing,” he said.

Gavriel Fisk contributed to this report.

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