American officials on Monday scrambled to clarify that that there were no differences between the US and France regarding the desired terms for an interim deal on Iran’s nuclear program, and to assure Israel that its security needs would not be compromised by such an agreement with Tehran.
“The French signed off on it, we signed off on it,” Secretary of State John Kerry said, referring to reports that the French had scuttled an agreement with Iran in Geneva over the weekend. On the contrary, he continued, the P5+1 nations presented a unified front versus the Iranian delegation, and it was Iran that could not accept the deal “at that particular moment.”
Kerry batted away acerbic criticism of the proposed agreement from Benjamin Netanyahu, saying that the Israeli prime minister “needs to recognize that no agreement” with Iran had been reached and that his opposition was premature. “The time to oppose [a deal] is when you see what it is,” he said.
The secretary of state noted that the US has “been meeting constantly” with Israeli officials to understand the progress Iran has made in its nuclear program. “We are confident that what we are doing can actually protect Israel more effectively and provide greater security,” he said.
Kerry said there is no “end game” in motion and the Geneva talks were a first step in longer process of possible give and take.
Sources in Jerusalem were quick to dismiss Kerry’s statements, saying it wouldn’t make sense for Israel to voice its objections after an agreement was a fait accompli. “This is the moment to say that the agreement is no good,” Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon told Army Radio Monday afternoon. “The agreement we see in front of us is no good.”
“Netanyahu is furious and angry,” Danon said, maintaining that the prime minister had played a major role in pushing for the sanctions regime on Tehran and wouldn’t stand by if the West moved to “miss the opportunity” for a better deal.
The secretary of state was in Abu Dhabi, part of a tour of the Arab world during which he has been explaining the American position to Sunni alies who, like Israel, have been exhibiting growing concern over the prospect of an agreement with Iran. He said that US would defend its allies in the region against any aggression from Iran.
Dan Shapiro, the American ambassador to Israel, also attempted to mollify Israeli qualms over diplomacy with Tehran.
Addressing a plenary session of the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly in Jerusalem, Shapiro stressed the United States’ and US President Barack Obama’s commitment to Israel’s security, calling the alliance between the two countries “as close as it has ever been.” He said that both countries shared the goal of stopping Iran’s nuclear program.
“There is no greater priority for the United States and Israel than preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” Shapiro said. “On this issue the United Stated and Israel share an identical objective. [Obama] will not permit Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon, period.”
President Shimon Peres, who also spoke at the GA Monday, downplayed reports of divisions between the US and Israel regarding negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program, and expressed confidence in the US’s handling of the issue.
“The United States is our best friend, and the friendship of the United States to us is deep and meaningful,” Peres said, in a public interview with The Times of Israel’s editor David Horovitz. “[Obama] committed himself not to permit the Iranians to become a nuclear power; by the way, not just for the sake of Israel but for the sake of humanity, for the sake of the United States. About tactics, you can argue; nothing wrong.”
Peres’s and Shapiro’s comments contrast with recent speeches by Netanyahu, in which he called the recent deal proposed by the US and the other P5+1 countries “a bad deal.”
“What is being proposed now is a deal in which Iran retains all of that capacity” to build a nuclear weapon, Netanyahu told the GA Sunday. “Not one centrifuge is dismantled; not one. Iran gets to keep tons of low enriched uranium.”
Earlier Monday, the French foreign minister said he was optimistic about a deal with Iran in the coming weeks, but indicated that Tehran still had to make some concessions.
“We are not far from an agreement with the Iranians, but we are not there yet,” Laurent Fabius told Europe 1 radio, according to Reuters.
He also refuted suggestions by some diplomats that France was putting on a show by torpedoing a deal over the weekend, saying his country was merely acting on its own foreign policy objectives.
Iran and world powers were reportedly on the verge of a landmark deal on Iran’s nuclear program Saturday night, but the negotiations fell apart at the last minute, reportedly due to objections by France to the proposed agreement. The sides are to meet again on November 20.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladmir Putin called Saudi King Abdullah to clear the air over recent tensions between the two countries stemming from Moscow’s support for Iran’s nuclear ambitions and for beleaguered Syrian President Bashar Assad, AFP reported.
Despite their differences, the leaders “expressed a mutual interest in furthering (their) cooperation and maintaining contacts at various levels,” the Kremlin said.
Tensions between the two countries came to a head earlier this month when Riyadh rejected a seat on the UN Security Council due to the body’s inability to solve the crisis in Syria, and Russia, a permanent member of the body, responded with sharp criticism.
AP and JTA contributed to this report.