Israel nods in approval as Iran nuke talks extended

Netanyahu says that as long as negotiations are ongoing, sanctions should be increased to force Tehran into a deal

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz (L), at the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, November 23, 2014. (photo credit: Ohad Zwigenberg/POOL/FLASH90 )
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz (L), at the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, November 23, 2014. (photo credit: Ohad Zwigenberg/POOL/FLASH90 )

Israel on Monday welcomed the extension of nuclear talks between Iran and the West. “No deal is better than a bad deal,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an interview with the BBC. “The deal that Iran was pushing for was terrible. The deal would have left Iran with the ability to enrich uranium for an atom bomb while removing the sanctions.”

Netanyahu made the comments after diplomats close to negotiations in Vienna said that the P5+1 nations — the US, Britain, France, China, Russia, plus Germany — had decided to extend talks with Iran until July 2015 after they apparently failed to come to terms hours ahead of a midnight deadline.

“The right deal that is needed is to dismantle Iran’s capacity to make atomic bombs and only then dismantle the sanctions,” the prime minister continued. “Since that’s not in the offing, this result is better. A lot better. I think Iran should not have any capacity to enrich. There is no right to enrich. What do you need to enrich uranium for if you are not developing an atomic bomb?”

Netanyahu highlighted the fact that in addition to its uranium enrichment program, Iran has also also been developing intercontinental ballistic missiles.

“The only reason you build ICBMs is to launch a nuclear warhead,” he said. “So I think everyone agrees that Iran is unabashedly seeking to develop atomic bombs and I think they shouldn’t have the capacity to enrich uranium or to deliver nuclear warheads.”

Netanyahu rejected concerns that pressuring Tehran over its nuclear intentions would offend Iranian pride.

“If this position [applying pressure] was taken in the 1930s against Germany, it would have offended German pride, but it would have saved millions and millions of lives,” he said, reiterating his oft-made comparison between Iran and Nazi Germany.

The prime minister called for upping the sanctions on Iran to compel it to comply with Western demands, and argued that sanctions have in the past proved to be the most effective measure for bending Tehran’s will.

“You do not want to give this medievalist regime in Iran, that throws acid in the faces of women, that oppresses gays, that subjugates an entire population, that exports terrorism far and wide — don’t give these violent medievalists atomic bombs,” he said. “That’s not a good thing for the future of the world and its security.

“The fact that there is no deal now gives an opportunity to continue the economic pressure that has proved to be the only thing that brought Iran to the table. To continue them, to toughen them, I think that is the road that has to be taken.”

Although he did not mention or call for any military strikes on Iran, Netanyahu said that he was keeping all options open.

“Of course Israel is watching very carefully what is happening and Israel always, always, reserves the right to defend itself,” he said.

Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz said that the extension of the deadline for a deal showed that Tehran was still a long way off from agreeing to set aside its alleged ambition to produce atomic weapons.

“Israel believes that the conditions for a reasonable deal are still a long way from being realized, and that is because of the Iranian refusal to dismantle the uranium enrichment infrastructure, or at least most of it, and to give up on being a threshold nuclear state,” he said.

Steinitz, Netanyahu’s unofficial point man on the Iranian nuclear issue, suggested that the best response by the West would be to ratchet up sanctions to force Iran into changing its attitude.

“In the current situation, it is right to increase the economic and diplomatic pressure on Iran in order to improve the chances of success in future negotiations,” he said.

“Also, the Iranian insistence on continuing to develop advanced centrifuges, and better efficiency, and on the continued concealment and deception regarding nuclear tests that it has done in the past, indicate that even the most basic necessary and understandable conditions for real progress are still far from being realized,” he added.

Steinitz stressed that Israel would continue to closely monitor the talks and to hold “critical dialogue” on the subject with the United States and other powers.

Enriching uranium renders uranium suitable for peaceful purposes like nuclear power but also, at high purities, for the fissile core of a nuclear weapon.

Tehran wants to massively ramp up the number of enrichment centrifuges — in order, it says, to make fuel for a fleet of power reactors that it is yet to build.

But the West wants them dramatically reduced, which, together with more stringent UN inspections and an export of Iran’s uranium stocks, would make any attempt to make a bomb all but impossible.

Iran wants painful UN and Western sanctions that have strangled its vital oil exports lifted, but the powers want to stagger any relief over a long period of time to ensure Iran complies with any deal.

News agencies contributed to this report.

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