US President Barack Obama on Monday said it would be a “fundamental misjudgment” to demand Iran recognize Israel as part of a nascent nuclear deal, but also sought to assuage allies’ concerns by saying he would deal with Iran’s “destabilizing activities.”
In a drive to sell the deal to a hostile Congress, Obama told US radio network NPR that demands for Iran to recognize Israel go beyond the scope of the agreement.
“The notion that we would condition Iran not getting nuclear weapons in a verifiable deal on Iran recognizing Israel, is really akin to saying that we won’t sign a deal unless the nature of the Iranian regime completely transforms,” he said.
“And that is, I think, a fundamental misjudgment.”
The comments came hours after a top Jerusalem official released a list of demands it said would make a deal more palatable, including recognition of Israel.
Obama has said that Iran should stop threatening Israel and cease engaging in proxy wars around the Middle East, but has tried to separate concerns about Iran’s regional role from the tentative deal finalized Thursday.
“We want Iran not to have nuclear weapons precisely because we can’t bank on the nature of the regime changing. That’s exactly why we don’t want to have nuclear weapons.
“If suddenly Iran transformed itself to Germany or Sweden or France, then there would be a different set of conversations about their nuclear infrastructure.”
However, Obama later said he would continue to work with US partners to address Iran’s “destabilizing activities” in the Middle East, even as details of a nuclear deal with Tehran are thrashed out.
During a phone call with Oman leader Sultan Qaboos, Obama pledged to work “with Oman and other regional partners to address Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region,” the White House said.
Speaking to reporters earlier Monday, Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz demanded a series of changes to close key loopholes as the final terms are negotiated ahead of a June 30 deadline.
He presented the demands after Netanyahu reiterated in a series of US TV interviews on Sunday that Israel does not oppose any deal with Iran, but rather demands a “better deal.”
The changes set out by Steinitz include: Barring further Iranian R&D on advanced centrifuges; significantly reducing the number of centrifuges Iran would have available to press back into service if it violates the deal; shuttering the Fordo underground enrichment facility; requiring Iran’s compliance in detailing previous nuclear activities with possible military dimensions; shipping its stockpile of lower-enriched uranium out of the country; and ensuring “anywhere, anytime” inspections of Iran’s facilities.
Such changes, said Steinitz, would render a final deal “more reasonable.”
Obama’s comments did not address the other demands. The full interview was slated to be released Tuesday morning, according to NPR.
However, Ben Rhodes, the US deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, dismissed the notion — relentlessly asserted by Netanyahu — that a better deal was attainable, in interviews to Israeli media Monday night.
The deal as it now stands meets the US’s “core objectives,” he said to Channel 2.
“We believe that this is the best deal that can emerge from these negotiations,” he echoed, in a second interview, to Channel 10.
“We weren’t going to take a bad deal,” Rhodes told Channel 2. The US had stood firm, and the negotiations had twice been extended, he said, because “the terms that were on the table were not good enough for us.” He said the US “held out” for the deal that was reached last Thursday, and that it met the US’s “core objectives.”
Obama’s call to Qaboos in Muscat was part of a drive to convince skeptical allies that a tentative deal over Iran’s nuclear program does not signify a softening of US opposition to Iran’s role in the region.
Arab states accuse Iran of fueling a series of proxy battles in the Middle East that have destabilized Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon and other states.
Obama has invited leaders of the several Gulf states to Camp David in the near future in a bid to assuage their concerns.