Netanyahu lauds delay in Iran nuclear talks

PM fumes that ‘not a single centrifuge would be dismantled’ under emerging accord; Livni also castigates ‘bad deal’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sits under a portrait of the first Israeli prime minister David Ben-Gurion as he speaks during a special cabinet meeting at the Sde Boker academy to mark 40 years since Ben-Gurion's death. November 10, 2013. (Edi Israel/Pool/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sits under a portrait of the first Israeli prime minister David Ben-Gurion as he speaks during a special cabinet meeting at the Sde Boker academy to mark 40 years since Ben-Gurion's death. November 10, 2013. (Edi Israel/Pool/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday praised Western powers for taking a break from nuclear talks with Iran and for avoiding signing what he termed “a bad deal” in Geneva on Saturday.

Speaking at the weekly cabinet meeting, which took place at Sde Boker in the southern Negev desert, Netanyahu reiterated his warning of recent days that the deal that was being considered in talks over the weekend in Geneva by the so-called P5+1 — the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany — was “bad and dangerous.”

“Over the weekend I spoke with President Barack Obama, with Russian President Vladimir Putin, with French President Francois Hollande, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron,” Netanyahu related.

“I told them that, based on information Israel has received, the deal taking shape is bad and dangerous. Not just for us, but for them as well. I suggested they wait and think carefully, and it’s good that they decided to do so. We will do everything in our power to convince these powers and these leaders to avoid a bad deal.”

“According to all the information” Israel was receiving, said Netanyahu, the deal taking shape was a bad, dangerous one. He said he had “no delusions” that a deal would yet be on its way — there is “a great desire” for a deal, he said — but vowed to do all he could to ensure it was not a dangerous one. Under the current terms, he said angrily, “not a single centrifuge would be dismantled, not one.” He added that he’d asked the world leaders with whom he spoke, “What’s the hurry?”

The cabinet meeting took place at Sde Boker in honor of the 40th anniversary of the death of Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. Ben-Gurion, a longtime proponent of developing the Negev, moved to Sde Boker in his waning years.

Tzipi Livni, Israel’s justice minister, said later Sunday that she shared Netanyahu’s assessment that the emerging deal “is a bad deal,” and that the West was failing to “use the leverage” it had to secure a better one, that would dismantle Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Israel would use the days ahead of the next round of talks, she said, to press the relevant players to secure better terms.

An anonymous senior Israeli official on Sunday remarked to ABC news about the lack of a deal with Iran, saying it was “a good decision; caution and skepticism are in order and we’ve got to make sure it’s a good deal.”

Still, unnamed Israeli government ministers suggested Sunday that an initial agreement between Iran and the Western powers on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program will be reached within two weeks, primarily, they said, because US President Barack Obama has made a “strategic decision” to allow Iran to retain nuclear enrichment capability.

The unnamed ministers told Israel Radio that the US hadn’t deliberately concealed from Israel information about the potential deal with Iran, but that due to the nature of the negotiations Israel was not kept completely abreast of the details. This contributed to the “difficult” meeting Friday between Netanyahu and visiting US Secretary of State John Kerry, in which Netanyahu expressed his strong opposition to a potential deal that would ease sanctions on Iran while allowing its basic nuclear infrastructure to remain in place.

Netanyahu emerged from that meeting to savage the emerging deal, publicly urge Kerry not to sign it, and stress that Israel would not be obligated by it. The unnamed ministers claimed that the meeting had a “significant” effect on Kerry and strengthened his resolve to complete a deal with Iran.

Still, after the talks in Geneva broke up after midnight Saturday, Kerry gave a press conference in which he seemed to hit back at Netanyahu, by urging critics not to jump to conclusions about the terms being discussed, or speak out on the basis of rumors.

Economy Minister Naftali Bennett said Sunday that “the survival of Israel and the security of the Western world” hinged on dismantling Iran’s nuclear program, and not merely “clicking on the pause button.” Speaking to Army Radio, Bennett said that if, in 10 years’ time, “a nuclear suitcase explodes in New York,” it will “because of concessions that happened in recent days.”

Opposition head MK Shelly Yachimovich (Labor) said Sunday that she “wasn’t sure” that Netanyahu desired any diplomatic solution at all to the Iranian threat, and warned against the prime minister opening “too many fronts against the US,” something Israel could not afford.

In a speech on Sunday afternoon at a ceremony marking 40 years since the death of first prime minister David Ben-Gurion, President Shimon Peres largely endorsed Netanyahu’s position on the Geneva talks. “”Yesterday the P5+1 did not come to an agreement, and rightly so,” Peres said. “A deal which does not prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power must not be signed. The wording at hand does not answer this requirement. Preventing a nuclear Iran was the P5+1’s very purpose and I hope that it remains so. This is also the unyielding position of the State of Israel.”

He stressed that Israel is “not opposed to diplomacy to achieve this goal. But there is no point in a deal which would not prevent Iran from becoming nuclear. I believe that our government’s position, expressed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is right.”

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