US Secretary of State John Kerry telephoned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday and again on Friday to update him on progress in negotiations with Iran on its nuclear program, as an Israeli official castigated the emerging deal as “incomprehensibly” bad.
According to an unnamed senior American official quoted by Haaretz Friday night, the secretary’s calls to Netanyahu came amid indications that the negotiations in Lausanne, Switzerland, are making progress and that an agreement could be finalized by Sunday.
Netanyahu has been a fierce and public opponent of the emerging deal. He lobbied against it in an address to both houses of Congress on March 3 — to the annoyance of President Barack Obama. And on Wednesday, in remarks immediately after he was charged with forming a new government following his success in the March 17 elections, Netanyahu vowed to patch up ties with the US, but insisted Israel would do everything to thwart the emerging deal, which he said was “an agreement that endangers us, our neighbors and the world.”
Israel’s Channel 2 reported Friday that the deal taking shape between Iran and world powers will leave Iran with 6,100 centrifuges spinning, and will involve a phased lifting of economic sanctions.
Earlier Friday, an Israeli official told The Times of Israel that the terms of the looming agreement were “incomprehensibly” bad and rejected the Obama administration’s contention that it would keep the regime a year away from accumulating enough fissile material for a bomb.
Estimating that a framework deal would indeed be signed soon, and that a full agreement would follow in June, this official lamented the US-led negotiators’ apparent readiness to remove sanctions without Iran being required to halt its global terrorist activities, and listed a host of areas in which Tehran was working against American, Israeli and moderate Arab interests without being made to pay a price.
“The deal is bad because of its readiness to remove sanctions without any American demand from Iran to stop the terror,” the official said. “I estimate that we will have a framework deal soon, and after that a full agreement in June. This is incomprehensible.”
Negotiators have yet to resolve several key issues, including the fate of some 13,000 centrifuges that Iran will be barred from using under the deal, whether Iran will be allowed to continue its R&D work on advanced centrifuges, and what will become of Iran’s already enriched uranium, the report on Israel’s Channel 2 news said. What has been agreed is that Iran will be allowed to continue to operate its secretive underground facility at Fordo, the TV station’s well-connected Middle East analyst Ehud Ya’ari said. Ya’ari, who did not give a source for his information, echoed the widespread Israeli description of the emerging deal as “bad.”
Also Friday, Reuters quoted a US State Department official saying that the decision by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to reach out to the leaders of the six powers on Thursday was “hopefully a sign that Iran is ready to make some of the tough decisions” needed for a deal.
Foreign ministers from the P5+1 nations — the US, Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany — are due in the coming days to join the ongoing talks in Lausanne, Switzerland, ahead of the March 31 deadline for a political framework agreement.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Kerry continued their meetings in Lausanne Friday.
“There has been massive progress on all the issues,” a senior Iranian official told Reuters Friday morning. “There are still disputes over two issues — R&D (research and development) and UN sanctions.”
“The difficulty is that the Iranians are not moving enough. They like to negotiate right up to the precipice and they’re very good at that,” a Western diplomat told Reuters.