Amid reports that the West may consider easing sanctions on Iran in exchange for its help fighting the Islamic State, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday lambasted such an arrangement as “absurd,” saying he’d never accept such a deal.
“I know just what Menachem Begin would say about the thing I am hearing more and more in recent days from respected analysts in the West,” Netanyahu said, speaking at an event marking the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem. “They [Iran] are fighting ISIL for their own interests, they are fighting over who will control the Islamic world that they want to impose on the entire world.
“It’s like Assad saying, ‘Give me back chemical weapons, so that I will fight ISIL,'” he continued.
Syria, which is more than three years into a bloody civil war, agreed to give up its chemical arsenal last fall when US President Barack Obama threatened missile strikes in retaliation for a chemical attack on a rebel-held suburb of Damascus. The attack is believed to have killed more than 1,000 people. Obama abandoned talk of attacking Syria after President Bashar Assad agreed to surrender his chemical weapons stockpiles to international inspectors.
Netanyahu remarked that letting up on Iran, or giving Assad chemical weapons, are both “absurd” ideas.
“Menachem Begin would completely reject it and I am doing the same,” he said of his predecessor and the founder of the Likud party, who ordered the 1981 airstrike on Iraq’s nuclear facilities at Osirak.
The prime minister’s Twitter feed later posted his remarks.
It's absurd.Menachem Begin would reject this outright and so do I. Iran must not be allowed to become a nuclear threshold state.
— PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) September 21, 2014
The prime minister’s comments followed earlier reports from Reuters that Iranian officials had indicated that Iran would be willing to back US efforts to combat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in exchange for easing the restrictions on its contested nuclear program.
However, Western officials insisted that the two issues must remain distinct, despite comments the day before from US Secretary of State John Kerry, who said Iran had a role to play in fighting the jihadists.
“Iran is a very influential country in the region and can help in the fight against the ISIL [IS] terrorists… but it is a two-way street. You give something, you take something,” an anonymous senior Iranian official said, according to the report.
Kerry said Saturday that, in combating the jihadist threat, “there is a role for nearly every country to play, including Iran.”
Nuclear talks between Iran and six world powers, including the US, restarted late last week, with the sides hoping to come to a long-term agreement before the November 24 deadline.
Iran has refused US demands that it gut its uranium-enrichment program, but the two sides are now discussing a new proposal that would leave much of Tehran’s enriching machines in place but disconnected from feeds of uranium, diplomats told The Associated Press Saturday.
The talks have been stalled for months over Iran’s opposition to sharply reducing the size and output of centrifuges that can enrich uranium to levels needed for reactor fuel or weapons-grade material used in the core of nuclear warheads. Iran says its enrichment program is only for peaceful purposes, but Washington fears it could be used to make a bomb.
AP and AFP contributed to this report.