Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took direct aim at the Obama administration’s desire for a pause in new sanctions against Iran on Wednesday, telling the visiting American secretary of state that only more pressure would convince the Iranians to prove their nuclear program is peaceful.
“I believe that as long as they continue their goal to enrich uranium, to get nuclear weapons, the pressure should be maintained and even increased because they’re increasing enrichment, and I believe that it’s possible with intense pressure — because of the sanctions regime led in large part by the United States — to get Iran to fully dismantle its nuclear weapons program,” Netanyahu said alongside John Kerry in a press conference in Jerusalem.
“I’d be very worried with any partial deals that enable Iran to maintain those capabilities but begin to reduce sanctions because I think this could undermine the longevity and durability of the sanctions regime,” he added, alluding to recent reports according to which the US was willing to provide sanctions relief to the Islamic Republic in exchange for some compromises on its nuclear program.
Netanyahu’s statement came ahead of a second round of nuclear negotiations between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany, scheduled to begin in Geneva on Thursday.
The Obama administration says it wants to hold off on new sanctions to allow for flexibility in those talks.
Kerry did not address the sanctions issues during his public comments with Netanyahu Wednesday, but stressed that the US would not allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon.
“Our goal is an Iran that has only a peaceful nuclear program, and indeed we must make certain –- it is incumbent on us, a responsibility of the world — to know with certainty that it is a peaceful program and there is no capacity to produce a weapon of mass destruction,” he said. “That’s our goal. And as I have said many times, no deal is better than a bad deal. We will not make a bad deal if a deal can be made at all. And we will be pursuing that carefully.”
According to a report Tuesday in the London Times, Iran could be offered a one-time cash payment from its frozen oil revenues as part of a plan being explored to give the Islamic Republic some immediate relief from sanctions that have crippled its economic.
The money would come in exchange for a complete halting of Iran’s nuclear program while negotiations with Western powers continue, the report said.
Netanyahu has warned against any type of sanctions relief before Iran completely abandons uranium enrichment, a position that the Islamic Republic has so far rejected outright.
Israel sees a nuclear-armed Iran as an existential threat, and Netanyahu has vowed to prevent Iran from acquiring nukes, unilaterally if necessary.
In an interview with Israeli TV Sunday, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, another leading Obama administration official, addressed Netanyahu’s assertion that Israel would stand alone against Iran if need be. Sherman remarked that the best resolution to the issue of Iran’s nuclear program was “a peaceful negotiated solution” — and that Netanyahu was well aware of that fact.
“Israel knows as well as any country, if not better than any country, the cost of war, the cost of military action,” she said.
Netanyahu, at a Likud faction meeting Monday, chose to play up the inflammatory rhetoric emanating from Iran in the past few days, ahead of the anniversary of the 1979 storming of the American embassy in Tehran.