White House: There’s no convincing Netanyahu on Iran
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White House: There’s no convincing Netanyahu on Iran

Obama adviser says PM was opposed to deal from the start, but insists pursuing an agreement is ‘the right thing to do’

White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes in an April 3, 2015 interview with CNN on the political framework  agreement with Iran. (Photo credit: screenshot/CNN)
White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes in an April 3, 2015 interview with CNN on the political framework agreement with Iran. (Photo credit: screenshot/CNN)

The White House said Friday that there is no convincing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the merits of a nuclear deal with Iran and that the Israeli leader has been fiercely opposed to the diplomatic track even before the first interim agreement was reached in November 2013.

“I think that we’re not going to convince Prime Minister Netanyahu. Frankly, he has disagreed with this approach since before the first Joint Plan of Action, the first interim agreement that was reached with Iran,” said Ben Rhodes, US President Barack Obama’s deputy national security adviser. The White House official was speaking to CNN’s Fareed Zakaria.

Obama himself also reiterated at the weekend that the framework represented “a historic understanding” that if fully implemented would prevent Iran from, attaining nuclear weapons. Talks on a final deal are supposed to be completed by June 30.

Rhodes’ remarks came a day after the P5+1 world powers and Iran reached a political framework for a deal in Switzerland on Thursday which aims to curtail Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of sanctions. Netanyahu has been a vociferous opponent of the deal, charging that it paves the way for a nuclear Iran and threatens Israel’s very survival.

Netanyahu harshly criticized the negotiations, relentlessly demanding instead that the Iranian program be dismantled. He claims Iran cannot be trusted, and that leaving key facilities intact –as the framework deal does — will allow the Iranians to eventually build a bomb. Other officials described the deal Thursday night as a “dangerous capitulation” to Iran.

The US has maintained that the deal took Israel’s concerns into consideration and that Washington remains committed to Israel’s security.

“What we will say to Netanyahu… is we’re making a nuclear deal here, it’s the right thing to do, it’s the best way to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, for the longest amount of time,” said Rhodes.

Netanyahu also demanded Friday that any final deal include a clause demanding  recognition of Israel’s right to exist — a demand immediately rejected by the US State Department.

The PM said after a cabinet session Friday that “Israel will not accept an agreement which allows a country that vows to annihilate us to develop nuclear weapons, period,” and that the deal must “include a clear and unambiguous Iranian recognition of Israel’s right to exist.”

“This is an agreement that is only about the nuclear issue,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters on Friday night, according to Fox News. “This is an agreement that doesn’t deal with any other issues, nor should it.”

In his interview, Rhodes said that the US was not ignoring concerns about Iran’s “destabilizing actions in the region, its threats toward Israel and our other partners, its support for terrorism.”

“While we have a nuclear deal here, we’re going to be very very vigilant in confronting other Iranian actions in the region,” he said.

The White House expressed confidence on Friday night that a final nuclear agreement would be attained in the coming months.

“We feel good,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said, according to Reuters. “There’s a lot of work to be done, but we are confident we can get those details in place.”

The commitments announced Thursday, if implemented, would substantially pare back some Iranian nuclear assets for a decade and restrict others for an additional five years. According to a US document listing those commitments, Tehran is ready to reduce its number of centrifuges, the machines that can spin uranium gas to levels used in nuclear warheads.

Of the nearly 20,000 centrifuges Iran now has installed or running at its main enrichment site, the country would be allowed to operate just over 5,000. Much of its enriched stockpiles would be neutralized. A planned reactor would be reconstructed so it can’t produce weapons-grade plutonium. Monitoring and inspections by the UN nuclear agency would be enhanced.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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