Netanyahu praises Trump for ‘bold decision’ on Iran deal

Prime minister says US leader is giving the Middle East and world an opportunity to fix nuclear agreement

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that by not recertifying the Iranian nuclear deal, US President Donald Trump had given the world an opportunity to avert a very dangerous outcome and that Israel along with key Arab states back his policy.

Speaking to the Fox News channel, Netanyahu praised Trump for not shying away from the controversial issue.

“I commend the president for taking a historic and bold decision to avert this danger in time,” Netanyahu said. “He could have kicked the can down the road. He could have said ‘this isn’t going to happen on my watch, so I’ll just let it go,’ but he didn’t. He faced up to this danger and I think he gave an opportunity for all of us in the Middle East and beyond to fix this deal. Fix it or nix it. Because it could be very very dangerous if it just went through.”

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the nuclear control accord reached between Iran and the so-called P5+1 — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States — was signed in 2015 and saw economic sanctions on Iran lifted in return for limitations place on it nuclear program to prevent it from producing nuclear weapons. Israeli officials, led by Netanyahu, opposed the deal, saying it did not go far enough to prevent Iran from going nuclear in the future.

Trump announced Friday that he would not recertify the nuclear deal and vowed to also take a tougher approach toward Tehran’s ballistic missile program and support for terrorism.

Regional support for Trump comes not just for Israel, Netanyahu said, but also from “key Arab states,” such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

“When Israel and the Arab states agree on something then you should pay attention,” Netanyahu said.

US President Donald Trump speaks about the Iran deal from the Diplomatic Reception room of the White House in Washington, DC, on October 13, 2017. (AFP/Brendan Smialowski)

Netanyahu expressed his optimism that the other powers party to the deal will understand that Trump is not demanding the agreement be cancelled, but instead calling for it to be amended.

After Trump’s announcement last week, the leaders of Britain, France and Germany said they remained committed to the nuclear deal.

“It will take time for governments to understand the significance of what the president put forward,” Netanyahu said and warned that Iran’s missile development is aimed at threatening not just Israel, but Europe and the US.

“Iran says ‘Death to America, death to Israel.’ You [the US] are the big Satan, we’re the little Satan, I suppose Europe is in between, the middle-sized Satan, I hope they aren’t offended,” he quipped, and described Iran as “the foremost terrorist state of our time.”

Trump said Friday he was launching a tougher strategy to check Iran’s “fanatical regime,” and warned that 2015’s landmark international nuclear deal could be terminated at any time.

In a much-anticipated White House speech, Trump stopped short of withdrawing from the accord, but “decertified” his support for the agreement and left its fate in the hands of Congress.

Asked if he would rather see the deal terminated or changed, Netanyahu stressed that it is the eventual outcome that matters most, less so how it is achieved.

“I’m focused on the goal to prevent Iran from ever acquiring nuclear weapons,” he said. “You can achieve it either by fixing the bad deal or by nixing it. I don’t particularly care which one.”

The prime minister said that the three key issues are removing the “sunset clause” that expires the agreement in 2025, preventing Iran from developing intercontinental ballistic missiles, and ensuring that inspectors have access to all sites in Iran, including military sites — something Tehran has so far refused to permit.

“If you get it fine; if you don’t, then cancel the deal,” he said.

Iranian diplomats and officials from the P5+1 powers meet in Vienna to discuss the 2015 nuclear accord on April 25, 2017. (AFP/Joe Klamar)

The US, Netanyahu said, can get what it wants because it has “immense leverage” based on “the fact that the United States is a great superpower.”

The US economy, at 20 trillion dollars, is 50 times that of Iran and that means that allies will have a “no-brainer” if they have to choose between sanctions on Iran or “cutting themselves out of the American market,” Netanyahu asserted.

Trump’s declarations have now put pressure on Tehran and the economic “bonanza” that the radical leaders in Iran were enjoying after the sanctions were lifted following the agreement has now stopped, Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu was also quizzed about Iran’s possible cooperation with North Korea.

There is “no question they did in the past, but I’d rather not discuss ongoing intelligence,” Netanyahu responded.

Netanyahu also gave his full support for the US Treasury measures aimed at punishing Iran’s Revolutionary Guard for supporting terror.

On Friday, the US Treasury said it had taken action against the Islamic Revolutionary Guards under a 2001 executive order to hit sources of terror funding and added four companies that allegedly support the group to its sanctions list.

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