Iran is trying to negotiate a partial deal with the West that would lift international sanctions, while still allowing Tehran to pursue a nuclear weapon, Prime Minister Netanyahu warned in an interview Sunday.
“I think the pressure has to be maintained on Iran, even increased on Iran, until it actually stops the nuclear program, that is, dismantles it,” Netanyahu told NBC’s Meet the Press. “I think you don’t want to go through half-way measures.
“Suppose Syria said, ‘Well, you know, we’re going to dismantle 20 percent [of our chemical weapons], so give us the easing of sanctions’ — nobody would buy that,” he added. “That’s exactly what Iran is trying to do. They’re trying to give a partial deal that they know could end up dissolving the sanctions regime and would keep them with the nuclear weapons capabilities.”
Netanyahu was responding to a report that in the wake of last week’s negotiations in Geneva, President Barack Obama was considering releasing Iranian assets worth billions if Iran takes steps to curb its nuclear program.
Netanyahu elaborated that he was firmly against any such move because Iran was still committing the actions that brought about the sanctions.
“As far as I remember, those assets were frozen for three reasons,” he said. “One, Iran’s terrorist actions; two, its aggressive actions particularly in the [Persian] Gulf; and three, its continued refusal to stop the production of weapons of mass destruction. You know, if you get all three done and they stop doing it, well then, I suppose you could unfreeze them.”
Netanyahu also stressed that while the international community had adopted firm UN Security Council resolutions calling on Iran to dismantle the aspects of its program allegedly aimed at producing a nuclear weapon, Iran insisted on maintaining them.
“Nobody challenges Iran or any country’s pursuit of civilian nuclear energy, but 17 countries in the world, including your neighbors Mexico and Canada, have very robust programs for civilian nuclear energy, but they don’t enrich with centrifuges and they don’t have heavy water reactors,” he said. “Why do you insist on maintaining a plutonium heavy water reactor and on maintaining centrifuges that can only be used for making nuclear weapons? And the answer is because they want to have residual material for making nuclear weapons.”
Iran is reportedly willing to stop enriching uranium to 20 percent and “greatly restrict” activity at its nuclear facilities in exchange for a lifting of Western sanctions. Netanyahu wants Iran’s entire “military nuclear” capacity dismantled, including all enrichment capacities.
The interviewer also asked Netanyahu if he’d prefer that President Bashar Assad remain in power in Syria rather than allow an Islamist regime to take over.
“No,” the prime minister replied. “I certainly don’t. I mean, I don’t think Assad is in power. I think Iran is in power, because basically, Syria has become an Iranian protectorate. Iran’s henchmen, Hezbollah, are doing the fighting for Assad, for his army.
“We want to end it in the best way, that we don’t have either an Iranian protectorate or a jihadist regime, a la Afghanistan, in Syria.”
Also appearing on Meet the Press was US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, who said it was too early to talk about easing sanctions on Iran.
“It is premature to talk about the easing. I think the sanctions are working, and that is why the discussions have started. We need to see that they [the Iranians] are taking the steps to move away from having nuclear weapons capacity,” he said. “We need to see real, tangible evidence of it. And we will not make moves on the sanctions until we see those kinds of moves [from Tehran].”