US President Barack Obama called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Sunday evening, in a pre-scheduled conversation, and told him that the US will remain committed to Israel and its safety. The call came nearly 24 hours after Iran and world powers signed a first-step agreement in Geneva to largely freeze Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for partial sanctions relief.
Obama added that the US would not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon under any circumstances, and would confer with Israel about future negotiations with Tehran over a final agreement.
“The two leaders reaffirmed their shared goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” deputy White House spokesman Josh Earnest told a press gaggle aboard Air Force One. According to US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, Obama told Netanyahu that he wants the two sides “to begin consultations immediately regarding our efforts to negotiate a comprehensive solution.”
“The President underscored that the United States will remain firm in our commitment to Israel, which has good reason to be skeptical about Iran’s intentions,” Shapiro wrote on Facebook.
“Consistent with our commitment to consult closely with our Israeli friends, the president told the prime minister that he wants the United States and Israel to begin consultations immediately regarding our efforts to negotiate a comprehensive solution,” said a statement by the White House. “The president underscored that the United States will remain firm in our commitment to Israel, which has good reason to be skeptical about Iran’s intentions,” it said.
Israeli TV news reported late Sunday that Netanyahu was “extremely angry” with Obama over the deal, that he fears the international sanctions regime will now crumble, that the US had not come clean to Israel over a secret back channel of talks with Iran, and that Israel’s military option for intervening in Iran is off the table for the foreseeable future now that the interim deal is done.
“The president provided the prime minister with an update on negotiations in Geneva and underscored his strong commitment to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, which is the aim of the ongoing negotiations,” the White House said.
The report added that the two leaders agreed to “stay in touch on this issue.”
An Obama administration official who spoke to Reuters said that the phone call had been “very long,” though the official declined to provide further information about the two leader’s discussion.
This was Obama and Netanyahu’s first official discussion of the deal.
From aboard the presidential plane Air Force One, the US president phoned the prime minister, who strongly condemned the agreement on Sunday morning, in order to brief the prime minister on the details of the accord and to address his concerns.
On Sunday morning, Iranian delegates and Western powers reached an interim deal on Iran’s rogue nuclear program, after a weekend of intensive talks.
Obama said the deal was an “important first step” that opened up a “real opportunity to achieve a peaceful settlement” and address the world’s concerns over the program.
Netanyahu, on the other hand, called the agreement a “historic mistake,” and vowed to keep Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
“What was accomplished last night in Geneva is not a historic agreement; it’s a historic mistake,” Netanyahu said at the start of Sunday morning’s weekly cabinet meeting.
“Today the world has become much more dangerous, because the most dangerous regime in the world took a meaningful step toward acquiring the most dangerous weapon in the world.”
On Sunday evening, he added: “As we learn more and more details about the agreement that was achieved last night in Geneva, it becomes increasingly clear how bad and dangerous this agreement is to the world, the region and Israel.”
Earlier Sunday, US Secretary of State John Kerry tried to allay Israel’s concerns about the agreement.
In an interview with CNN, Kerry said the agreement had actually made Israel safer.
“We believe very strongly that, because the Iranian nuclear program is actually set backwards and is actually locked into place in critical places, that that is better for Israel than if you were just continuing to go down the road and they rush towards a nuclear weapon.”
The Times of Israel Staff contributed to this report