Israel estimates that Iran has spent at least $160 billion on its drive to nuclear weapons, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday.
At a press conference in Davos, where he is attending the World Economic Forum, Netanyahu dismissed Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s claim that Iran is not seeking the bomb, and said Iran was engaged in a “campaign of fraud” to mislead the world about its nuclear weapons aspirations.
Referring to Rouhani’s speech in Davos on Thursday, Netanyahu was witheringly critical: “He said they have no intention to develop nuclear weapons. Come on. Does anybody really believe that? Does anybody really think that? They’re investing these tens of billions. By our estimation, they have invested $160-170 billion dollars. What for? To develop medical isotopes to despatch on ballistic missiles to sick Iranians orbiting the Earth? Of course they intend to develop nuclear weapons.”
Iran’s national budget for 2013 was a reported $453 billion.
Netanyahu said the international community now faced the major challenge of puncturing Rouhani’s “gross lies” and ensuring that a permanent accord with Iran would see the dismantling of Iran’s military nuclear capabilities. He said he had met with leaders “from five continents” in Davos, and “almost all of them, if not all of them, share my analysis” of the Iranian threat.
The prime minister met with Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a series of foreign ministers, including from China, Norway, Mexico, and numerous prominent high-tech figures, including Bill Gates and top officials at Google, Yahoo and Cisco, during the Davos meet.
Netanyahu, who also met in Davos with US Secretary of State John Kerry, said the principles of a future potential agreement with the Palestinians would become clear in the next few days — a reference to a “framework” agreement which Kerry is finalizing to guide the ongoing peace talks. Once those principles were made clear, Netanyahu said, it would be possible to assess whether the Palestinian leadership is truly seeking a breakthrough.
He stressed that Kerry’s “framework” agreement was not a binding peace deal, but rather that “the Americans are speaking about their proposal” — a path forward for further negotiations, he said.
Kerry and Netanyahu met for 90 minutes. Netanyahu told the secretary he had no intention of evacuating any Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley or uprooting Israelis who live there. “I’ve said in the past and I repeat today: I do not intend to evacuate any settlements, I don’t intend to uproot any Israeli,” he said. He was responding to a question about the Jordan Valley, and it was not clear whether he was speaking only in that context or about settlements in general.
Israel’s insistence on maintaining a security presence in the Jordan Valley, the area of the West Bank bordering the Hashemite Kingdom, has been a sticking point for the two sides in the six months of negotiations that began at the end of July.
Last month, the Palestinians reportedly rejected a proposal by Kerry for an Israeli security presence to remain in the Jordan Valley for the first 10 years after the signing of a peace deal.
Netanyahu added that international economic pressure on Israel over settlements would not advance the peace process but, rather, harm it by encouraging the Palestinians to toughen their stance.
Kerry, earlier, told Saudi news outlet Al Arabiya that he was skeptical as to whether such a framework accord could be finalized in the coming month.
“I’m not sure when it will be,” Kerry said. “It will be when we’re finished with the work we have to do to get there. We’re still negotiating. We’re working in good faith with both of the parties. The leaders have been very, very committed to this process. My hope is we can achieve the framework for final status negotiations. But it’s very, very difficult and we have a lot of work to do.”
The secretary of state said that if a peace agreement was not reached soon, “the risks for everybody are much greater — the risk of confrontation, the risk of violence, the risk of continued conflict.”
Last week London-based Arabic daily al-Hayat reported that Kerry was to present a memorandum of understanding between Israel and the Palestinians at a conference in Jordan at the end of the month.
Later Friday, Kerry was to deliver a speech in which US officials said he would counter criticism that the United States is pulling back from the Mideast.
Kerry would argue it’s a “myth” that Washington has disengaged from the region, pointing out major diplomatic initiatives with the Israelis and Palestinians, Syria and Iran, they said.
Kerry came to Davos after attending a Syria peace conference in Montreux, Switzerland on Wednesday.
AP contributed to this report.