Liberman: Letting Iran enrich uranium will set off regional nuclear race

As talks in Geneva enter 3rd day, foreign minister says Israel has been ‘not OK’ in recent dealings with US over emerging deal with Tehran

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks to Foreign Ministry staff on November 12, 2013. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks to Foreign Ministry staff on November 12, 2013. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Recently reinstated Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman warned Friday that should the international community allow Iran to continue enriching uranium — as the emerging deal between world powers and Tehran in Geneva is rumored to do — it will lead to a nuclear race in the region on a scale “that even the most nightmarish Hollywood horror movie could not come close to depicting.

“If the world legitimizes the Iranian demand to recognize its ‘right to enrich uranium,’ all the countries in the region will soon demand this same ‘right,’ and that will set off a nuclear race,” Liberman said at a conference in Eilat.

“We will know how to handle the Iranian threat, even if we stand alone,” he said. “The threat is not just directed at us. The consequences [will be felt] across the Persian Gulf, Saudi Arabia, the price of oil and gas. [The consequences] will be catastrophic for the whole world.”

Liberman addressed the Netanyahu government’s recent clash with the United States over the emerging deal taking shape in Geneva — where talks entered their third day Friday — calling for a more measured approach toward Israel’s closest ally.

“Israel cannot act in the modern world without the coordination and assistance of the United States, its most important strategic partner. We must take into consideration the difficulties they face and help them by developing a more varied foreign policy,” he said.

Conceding that Israel’s behavior lately has been “not OK,” the foreign minister stressed that Israel cannot “always demand [things] from the United States and continue to burden them too much. We need new allies.

“No alliance with any other country will come close to our alliance with the US, but a stronger Israel and a development of ties with others will benefit both [Israel and the United States].”

Turning to peace talks with the Palestinians, Liberman said that this was not the time for a permanent peace agreement with the Palestinians, warning that the pursuit after such an agreement would be akin to “laying the foundation of a building right in the throes of an earthquake.”

In Geneva, two top diplomats were back at the negotiating table for the third consecutive day, trying to hammer out the terms that would start curbing Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief for the Islamic Republic.

The nuclear talks are being held formally between the P5+1 world powers — the US, Russia, China, France and Germany — along with Iran. But the seven nations have convened only once since the current round of talks started Wednesday. Instead, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and top EU diplomat Catherine Ashton have met to try to find common language on a first-step deal.

Among the apparent sticking points are Iran’s uranium enrichment program — which can produce both reactor fuel and the fissile core of nuclear warheads — and relief for Iran’s oil and banking sectors.

Iran denies wanting nuclear weapons.

On Thursday, a second day of nuclear talks in Geneva ended with both sides indicating substantive issues still stood in the way of a deal between Iran and the six world powers.

Earlier Friday, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon warned that Iran must be prevented from operating under a “nuclear umbrella [which would] allow it to advance its terror operations, for example, using a ‘dirty bomb’ on Western targets around the world.”

Speaking during an official state visit in Canada, Ya’alon said that “one way or another, Iran’s military nuclear program must be stopped. We must continue with harsh sanctions on the diplomatic front, while presenting a credible military threat.

“We stand before a bad deal [in Geneva], after which Iran will still be allowed to preserve its [uranium] enrichment capabilities and operate without pressure. A strengthened Iran is a strengthened Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad. These are groups that present a threat to the West and to us,” warned the defense minister.

In Moscow this week to meet with President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu renewed his demand for a halt to all Iranian nuclear programs that could be turned from peaceful uses to making weapons.

Israel wants a settlement that is “genuine and real,” he said.

“Israel believes that the international community must unequivocally ensure the fulfillment of the UN Security Council’s decisions so that uranium enrichment ends, centrifuges are dismantled, enriched material is taken out of Iran and the reactor in Arak is dismantled,” continued Netanyahu, referring to Iran’s plutonium reactor under construction.

“They must not have nuclear weapons,” he told a gathering of Russian Jews. “And I promise you that they will not have nuclear weapons.”

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