TV report: Netanyahu tells cabinet Trump is likely to exit Iran deal by May

Relaying details of their meeting last week, prime minister reportedly says US president made threat to bolt accord in presence of Pence, Tillerson

US President Donald Trump meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House, March 5, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
US President Donald Trump meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House, March 5, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told members of his cabinet this week that US President Donald Trump will likely walk away from the Iran nuclear deal this May, Channel 10 news reported Thursday.

Netanyahu reportedly made the remarks during the cabinet meeting on Sunday when he relayed the details of his meeting with Trump in Washington a week earlier.

According to the TV report, Netanyahu said his conversation with Trump about the 2015 nuclear deal was attended by Vice President Mike Pence, then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary James Mattis, National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster, and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2r) leads the weekly government conference at the Prime Ministers office in Jerusalem on March 11, 2018. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

“I believe Trump is very close to canceling the nuclear agreement,” Netanyahu reportedly told his ministers. “The president spoke in the presence of his staff and senior government officials when he told me that if there is no significant change, he’ll pull out of the Iran nuclear deal.”

According to a report in the Axios news website, Trump told the prime minister that he was demanding “significant changes” to the 2015 accord and vowed to walk away from the Obama-era accord unless the European countries fixed it. However, Trump said that so far, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom have only offered “cosmetic changes,” the website said, quoting Israeli officials.

The Trump administration has demanded the nuclear accord be amended to end its so-called sunset provisions, incorporate a ban on ballistic missile testing, and increase inspection access to Iran’s military sites.

The nuclear deal, reached in 2015 between Iran on one side and the US, UK, France, Russia, China, and Germany on the other, rolled back Tehran’s nuclear enrichment program in exchange for relief from punishing sanctions.

Trump has called the deal “disastrous” and vowed to pull out of it if it is not renegotiated, positions echoed by Pence in his speech.

Netanyahu said he warned US officials that, “buried within the Iran nuclear deal are many dangers to the world, including a specific danger of nuclearizing of the Middle East.”

This was highlighted Thursday when  Saudi Arabia’s crown prince warned in a US television interview that if Tehran got a nuclear weapon, his country would follow suit.

“Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible,” Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in an excerpt of the interview that aired Thursday on “CBS This Morning.”

On Sunday, Netanyahu warned against “nuclearizing the Middle East,” saying that the nuclear deal signed by Iran and the international community could, in its current form, lead to a dangerous arms race.

A worker rides a bicycle in front of the reactor building of the Bushehr nuclear power plant, just outside the southern city of Bushehr, Iran, on October 26, 2010. (AP/Mehr News Agency, Majid Asgaripour, File)

“Many countries in the Middle East say that they too should be allowed to enrich uranium if Iran is allowed to,” Netanyahu said, at the opening of his weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem detailing his meetings with US officials, including President Donald Trump, during his five day-trip to the US.

In recent months, Saudi Arabia has announced its intentions of embarking on a massive program to become “self-sufficient” in producing nuclear fuel. Preliminary plans suggest the Saudis may be looking to build as many as 17 reactors in all.

In his meeting with Netanyahu earlier this month, Trump reportedly refused to commit to halting an emerging deal to sell reactors to Saudi Arabia, telling the prime minister that if the US did not supply the reactors, then the Russians or Chinese would, Channel 10 news said, citing unnamed senior Israeli officials.

Netanyahu and his team reportedly requested that, if the Americans insist on going ahead with building the reactors, Saudi Arabia be prevented from enriching uranium by itself. They demanded that this be a precondition for the entire deal, the report added

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