At a meeting with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday reiterated his demand that Iran cease all uranium enrichment, remove its already enriched material and shut down its nuclear facility in Qom.
Netanyahu told Ashton — who heads the international community’s nuclear negotiations with Iran — that he expected the EU to demand a complete cessation of Tehran’s uranium enrichment and to label Hezbollah a terrorist organization.
“These are Security Council resolutions. [Iran's] feet should be held to the fire,” Netanyahu said. “It’s not a question of style, but substance. It’s not a question of political spin, but the spinning of centrifuges. That has to stop, and I think that it is important that Europe joins the United States and Israel and all responsible elements of the international community, and demand a cessation of the Iranian nuclear program.”
Ashton told Netanyahu that it was important “to consult” with him about the situation after the elections in Iran. “I’m privileged to lead the negotiations in our twin-track approach,” she said. “I also recognize that it’s important that we consult with those who have a deep interest in this and that we have a chance to think about the broader region on the questions that concern us all.”
Ashton arrived in Israel on Wednesday as part of a weeklong trip to the Middle East. Yet despite the warm words exchanged at Thursday meeting, EU-Israel relations are currently frosty, due to Brussels’s harsh condemnations of Israeli construction beyond the Green Line and plans to introduce a labeling regime for products imported from East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The Israeli government is also unhappy about Ashton’s performance as the head of the P5+1 group of superpowers negotiating with Tehran over its nuclear program. Jerusalem feels Iran has been allowed to waste time by drawing out the talks while advancing toward the bomb.
Ashton said the European Union recognized that Israel has “vital” security concerns, asserting that these concerns play “a big part” in its approach to the peace process.
She added that the EU “wholeheartedly” supports ongoing efforts by US Secretary John Kerry to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace process. “I also want to say that it is, of course, vital that you are confident in the security of your country,” she told Netanyahu. “That is paramount to this country. I understand that and appreciate that, and it plays a big part in the approach that we take to these efforts that are going forward.”
Ahead of Ashton’s visit, Israeli diplomatic officials said they would tell her that if the EU didn’t change its tone on the settlements and its position on Hezbollah, which it has not labeled a terrorist organization, Jerusalem would find it harder to consider the EU a serious and fair player in Middle East politics.
On Wednesday, Ashton met in Tel Aviv with Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Jerusalem’s designated chief negotiator if talks resume. Ashton also visited Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah in Ramallah. On Thursday she was scheduled to visit Gaza to meet UNRWA Commissioner General Filippo Grandi.
Netanyahu also addressed the EU’s failure to designate Hezbollah a terrorist group, expressing hope that those member states that have refused such a move would reconsider their stance. “I hope there will be a European consensus on this. I mean, it’s hard to see how you cannot have a consensus on Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. If Hezbollah isn’t a terrorist organization, I don’t know what is a terrorist organization,” he said. Hezbollah is “butchering people left and right across the world and now in the cities of Syria,” the prime minister continued. “They’re murdering civilians without letup, including on European soil, as was discovered in Bulgaria, as they tried to do in Cyprus.”
At a June 4 meeting in Brussels, efforts to blacklist Hezbollah’s military wing came to nothing because Bulgaria, Poland, the Czech Republic and other nations expressed reservations. Larger nations such as Germany and France, which until very recently opposed such a move, were now in favor, but any such decision needs to be taken unanimously by all 27 member states.
Ashton started her current Middle East tour Sunday in Jordan, where she met with King Abdullah II and Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh. On Monday, she spoke to senior government officials in Iraq, before she moved on to Lebanon, where, along with meetings with political leaders, she visited a community center in Beirut assisting Syrian refugees. On Tuesday and Wednesday, Ashton met in Cairo with Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and senior figures from the government and the opposition. She also met with Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Araby, before moving on to Israel and the Palestinian territories.