Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday summoned home his ambassador to the US for emergency consultations, spoke by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and prepared to dispatch a delegation of top officials in a bid to thwart what he reportedly fears is a dangerous deal being prepared by US-led negotiators over Iran’s rogue nuclear program.
“There is growing concern in Jerusalem that a deal is being hatched,” Israel’s Channel 2 news reported.
Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States and one of Netanyahu’s closest advisers, who was on hand in DC Wednesday to greet the visiting Israeli President Shimon Peres, was called home later in the day for two days of urgent consultations with the prime minister, the TV report said.
Netanyahu also selected a team of officials, led by his Minister of Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinitz, and his National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen, who are set to leave Israel on Sunday for urgent talks with representatives of the P5+1 nations negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program. Those negotiations are set to resume next Wednesday.
The delegation will head first to Washington, for talks at the White House, and Steinitz will then fly on to Paris and London.
In Netanyahu’s phone conversation with Putin, the TV report said, the message conveyed was that any deal with Iran must leave it years away from a potential breakout to the bomb. Netanyahu’s concern is that the deal being hatched would turn Iran into a threshold nuclear state, capable of breaking out to the bomb in a matter of months.
The White House is well aware of Israel’s worries, the TV report said, but evidently does not share them.
Last November, taken by surprise as the P5+1 negotiators reached an interim agreement with Iran, Netanyahu publicly slammed it as a “historic mistake” and urged the US in vain not to approve it.
During their talks at the White House on Wednesday, President Barack Obama told Peres — who steps down as president next month — that the US would not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons. Netanyahu, however, has been demanding that Iran be denied the capacity to build nuclear weapons — which would entail the dismantling of Iran’s entire “military nuclear program,” the prime minister says, notably including its uranium enrichment capabilities. Obama has indicated that Iran could retain an enrichment capacity, if subject to intrusive inspections.
Israel’s concern is that the deal taking shape would leave Iran with 2,000 to 4,000 centrifuges enriching uranium, rather than the symbolic few hundred centrifuges that earlier drafts of the deal were understood to allow.
Obama told Peres that there were still gaps between the sides in the P5+1 talks with Iran, which are being held in the hopes of reaching a permanent agreement with Tehran by July 20 to curb its nuclear program. Briefing Peres on the current state of the negotiations, Obama promised that the US position would not change on Iran’s breakout potential or on key aspects of its technological development, and said that the US will not compromise on Israel’s security.
After the meeting, Peres told journalists that he hoped the final agreement with Iran would be similar to the agreement by which Syria was forced to part with its entire chemical weapons stockpile and the dismantling of its related infrastructure earlier this year. With such a deal in place, Peres said, Israel would consider supporting the removal of some of the sanctions against Tehran.
Peres also underlined that no deal with Tehran would be better than a bad deal that turned Iran into a threshold state.