Spurred by Obama, PM sets out terms for ‘better’ Iran deal

After president complains he’s offered no alternative, Netanyahu says accord should ‘roll back’ nuclear facilities, link sanctions relief to changed behavior

Apparently responding directly to a claim Saturday by President Barack Obama that he has not offered an alternative to the US-backed deal with Iran, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday called for a better deal and set out what he said were two central alternative components.

“The prime minister of Israel is deeply opposed to it, I think he’s made that very clear,” Obama had said of the framework for a deal on Iran’s nuclear program reached in Lausanne earlier this month. Speaking at a news conference at the Americas summit in Panama City, Obama continued: “I have repeatedly asked — what is the alternative that you present that you think makes it less likely for Iran to get a nuclear weapon? And I have yet to obtain a good answer on that.”

In a short video statement, Netanyahu appeared to take the bait.

“Let me reiterate again the two main components of the alternative to this bad deal: First, instead of allowing Iran to preserve and develop its nuclear capabilities, a better deal would significantly roll back these capabilities – for example, by shutting down the illicit underground facilities that Iran concealed for years from the international community.

“Second, instead of lifting the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear facilities and program at a fixed date, a better deal would link the lifting of these restrictions to an end of Iran’s aggression in the region, its worldwide terrorism and its threats to annihilate Israel,” he said.

US President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference at the Summit of the Americas in Panama City, Panama, Saturday, April 11, 2015. (photo credit: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
US President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference at the Summit of the Americas in Panama City, Panama, Saturday, April 11, 2015. (photo credit: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Netanyahu had also railed against the emerging Iran deal on Saturday evening, saying the inspections of Tehran’s nuclear sites are “not serious.” He also sounded unconvinced that the US-led world powers would resist Iran’s demand that sanctions be lifted as soon as the deal goes into force, rather than in phases, depending on Iranian compliance, as the US has pledged. “We see that the sanctions are being lifted, immediately, according to Iran’s demand, and this is without Iran having changed its policy of aggression everywhere,” he said, according to an English text released by his office.

“To my regret, all of the things I warned about vis-à-vis the framework agreement that was put together in Lausanne are coming true before our eyes,” Netanyahu declared. “This framework gives the leading terrorist state in the world a certain path to nuclear bombs, which would threaten Israel, the Middle East and the entire world.”

He accused world powers of allowing Iran’s nuclear infrastructure to remain intact as part of the framework deal: “We see that Iran is being left with significant nuclear capabilities; it is not dismantling them, it is preserving them. We also see that the inspection is not serious. How can such a country be trusted?! As of now there is no real monitoring,” he asserted.

Earlier on Sunday, the Haaretz daily, citing two unnamed Israeli officials, reported that Netanyahu had said at a recent meeting of the security cabinet that if a final agreement is signed between Iran and the world powers, the greatest concern is that Tehran will fully implement it without violations.

The Haaretz report said the security cabinet meeting was held on April 3, hours before the start of Passover Seder, and a day after the framework agreement was signed.

Netanyahu reportedly said at the meeting that he was concerned that Iran would not break the agreement, but would wait until it expires in 10-15 years and the country is not considered a threat, then restart its nuclear program without international monitors or sanctions.

The security cabinet decided at the meeting to try to persuade the Obama administration to improve the agreement. Most ministers, however, reportedly believe the best way to halt or alter the agreement is through Congress, which is where the most effort will be invested.

Under the current framework agreement — reached between Iran and the P5+1 countries of the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, and Germany on April 2 in Switzerland — Tehran is due to cut the number of centrifuges from 20,000 to just over 5,000, eliminate much of its uranium stockpiles and agree to more stringent monitoring of its facilities by UN inspectors in exchange for the rolling back of crippling sanctions.

The framework agreement, however, includes sunset clauses on a number of provisions that expire after 10-15 years and allow Tehran to continue operating its Fordo underground uranium enrichment facility and constructing the Arak heavy water production complex — a facility, some argue, that will be used to develop nuclear weapons.

Iran insists that its nuclear program is strictly for civilian purposes.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Sunday that important questions have not been settled and “there remains work to do” before a final deal to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

“What has been concluded is positive,” Fabius said in Saudi Arabia, of the framework agreement.

There must be “no possible military dimension” and there remains also the question of sanctions — their lifting, or re-establishment if Iran violates its commitments, Fabius said at a joint news conference with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal.

“These two questions are not settled and there remains work to do,” Fabius said. “France hopes for a solid and verifiable agreement.”

AFP contributed to this report.

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