Refusing to compromise on core elements of its military nuclear program, Iran is forcing world superpowers to choose between “a bad deal and no deal,” Israel’s minister of intelligence said on Wednesday.
Yuval Steinitz returned last week from strategic meetings with US deputy secretary of state William Burns and undersecretary of state in charge of Iran talks Wendy Sherman, which he said were “open and candid.” He will be leaving on Saturday night for further talks with Washington as nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 group of superpowers resume on Friday.
While Iran has made some “cosmetic gestures on secondary issues” during the last round of talks which ended with no agreement in July, it has shown no flexibility on two of the core international demands pertaining to its nuclear program: the dismantling of centrifuges used for the enrichment of uranium to weapons-grade level, and the closure of the heavy water plant in Arak, part of Iran’s plutonium nuclear track.
“Israel is deeply concerned. We feel that negotiations are going in the wrong direction,” Steinitz told journalists in Jerusalem. “The two alternatives now seem to be a bad deal or no deal. Unfortunately, there seems to be no good deal on the table.”
The minister’s comments reflected growing Israeli skepticism regarding the international community’s ability to reach a deal with Iran effectively deterring it from realizing its nuclear ambitions. Asked by Channel 2 about the IDF budget, Israeli Air Force commander Amir Eshel said on Sunday that Israeli fighter jets could theoretically be dispatched to Iran “tomorrow.”
Steinitz said that a “bad deal” would be one which does not significantly extend Iran’s “break out” period for producing a nuclear bomb — currently estimated at between nine and 18 months — while rolling back international sanctions which have cost Iran $100 billion year.
“The Iranians are getting almost everything but giving almost nothing,” he said.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his chief nuclear negotiator Mohammed Javad Zarif may have softened their tone toward their interlocutors, but their positions in negotiations have remained essentially that same as those of their predecessors, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Saeed Jalili, he declared.
“On the core issues, there are no differences,” he said.
A bad agreement would allow Iran to maintain a large number of its nearly 20,000 centrifuges (9,000 of them currently active) in its territory, tempting the Islamic Republic to go nuclear at a later stage despite international objection.
“Sooner or later Iran will dash for a bomb, like North Korea did, if the breakout time is one year. The temptation to do so will be very great,” he opined.
Allowing Iran to maintain its centrifuges and their infrastructure would also spark a regional arms race among “problematic” states including Algeria, Sudan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia which will insist on similar prerogatives, Steinitz asserted based on Israeli intelligence.
While the Obama administration is correct to target the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria — which Steinitz said is striving to establish “a second, Sunni, Iran” — the international community must not allow the war on terror to come at the expense of curtailing Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
“Iran should remain first priority,” he said, expressing fear that international crises such as the situations in Ukraine and Syria may prompt the superpowers to “clear the table and close the Iranian file” through a hasty, unsatisfactory agreement.
“From our point of view, no deal is by no means a failure,” Steinitz stated, directing his comments at US decision-makers. “In a sense, it’s a kind of success. It means standing up for your principles and not sacrificing global security.”
“No deal is an opportunity to increase pressure [on Iran] and get a better deal in the future,” he concluded.