Netanyahu ‘astonished’ over continuing nuclear talks

PM pans US-led ongoing negotiations in light of IAEA report that Tehran is hiding military components of nuke program

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on February 22, 2015. (Photo credit: Alex Kolomoisky/POOL)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on February 22, 2015. (Photo credit: Alex Kolomoisky/POOL)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday criticized the international community for negotiating with Iran while taking no steps to curb its sponsorship of global terrorism, as top American and Iranian diplomats attempted to hammer out a deal in Geneva.

Speaking at the weekly cabinet meeting, the prime minister said that it was “astonishing that even after the recent IAEA report determined that Iran is continuing to hide the military components of its nuclear program, the nuclear talks are proceeding.”

“Not only are they continuing, there is an increased effort to reach a nuclear agreement in the coming days and weeks,” Netanyahu said. The deadline for the six world powers and Iran to reach a political agreement about Tehran’s unsanctioned nuclear program is March 31.

His comments came as US Secretary of State John Kerry was set to arrive in Geneva Sunday for renewed talks with his Iranian counterpart on Tehran’s nuclear program, after warning “significant gaps” remain ahead of the deadline.

On Thursday, an IAEA report stated that Tehran is being evasive and ambiguous in its dealings with the UN’s nuclear watchdog agency, preventing the organization from launching a thorough assessment of the country’s nuclear program.

In the wake of the report, Netanyahu called on world leaders to stop “wooing Iran” over a nuclear deal.

Netanyahu also panned the international community for continuing to negotiate despite Iran’s sponsorship of international terrorism.

“The fact that Iran is continuing its murderous terrorism that knows no borders and which embraces the region and the world has, to our regret, not prevented the international community from continuing to talk with Iran about a nuclear agreement that will allow it to build the industrial capacity to develop nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said Sunday.

Israel has accused Iran of carrying out a slew of terrorist attacks in recent years against Israeli targets from Bulgaria to Bangkok and providing material support for both Hezbollah and Hamas.

Netanyahu said the emerging deal was “dangerous for Israel,” and defended his planned speech about the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program in Washington next month. In a jab at the executive branch, he said the US Congress “would appear to be the body that will affect the fate of the deal.”

World powers are trying to strike a deal with Iran that would prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear bomb in return for an easing of punishing international economic sanctions.

Kerry is set to arrive in the Swiss city Sunday morning for two days of talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, whose country denies its nuclear program has military objectives.

“There are still significant gaps, there is still a distance to travel,” Kerry said in London on Saturday.

There is a heightened sense of urgency as the clock ticks down towards the March 31 deadline for a political framework for the deal.

“President [Barack] Obama has no inclination whatsoever to extend these talks beyond the period that has been set out,” Kerry said.

US and Iranian diplomats have been meeting in Geneva since Friday, and senior negotiators from the so-called P5+1 group of Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany were also expected to meet on Sunday to help drive the talks forward.

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