Netanyahu urges immediate return of international sanctions on Iran

PM says ‘We know exactly what’s going on in the Iranian nuclear program’ after EU triggers dispute mechanism in nuclear accord over Tehran’s violations

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on December 22, 2019. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on December 22, 2019. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday called to reimpose international sanctions on Iran over its nuclear work, after European states triggered a dispute mechanism in the nuclear accord that limits Tehran’s atomic program.

“We know exactly what’s going on in the Iranian nuclear program. Iran thinks it’ll acquire nuclear weapons. I repeat: Israel won’t allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons,” he said in a statement.

“I also call on the West to impose the automatic sanctions mechanism at the UN — snapback sanctions — now,” he added.

Meanwhile US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted that he and Netanyahu “had a productive conversation earlier today in which we discussed recent regional developments. As always, the US commitment to Israel’s security is unwavering.”

The United States said it supported the three EU countries.

“We fully support the decision by the E3 to initiate the dispute resolution mechanism,” a State Department spokesperson said in a statement. “We believe further diplomatic and economic pressure is warranted by nations.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivers a statement on Iraq and Syria, at President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago property, December 29, 2019, in Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

Earlier Britain, France and Germany triggered the 2015 nuclear deal’s dispute mechanism due to Tehran’s ongoing transgressions of its terms.

The three European countries, which signed the international agreement along with the United States, Russia and China, said they rejected Tehran’s argument that Iran was justified in violating the deal because the United States broke the agreement by pulling out unilaterally in 2018.

The Europeans stressed that they want to “resolve the impasse through constructive diplomatic dialogue” and made no threat of sanctions in their statement.

The 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, seeks to prevent Iran from producing a nuclear weapon — something Iran insists it does not want to do — by putting curbs on its atomic program in exchange for economic incentives.

Under its dispute resolution mechanism, countries have 30 days to resolve their problem, though that can be extended. If it cannot be solved, the matter could be brought before the UN Security Council and could then result in the snapback of sanctions that had been lifted under the deal.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry warned of a “serious and strong response” to such action. Though a spokesman also said Tehran was “fully ready to answer any good will and constructive effort” that preserves the nuclear deal.

European foreign policy chief Josep Borrell at the European Parliament in Brussels, Monday, Oct. 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who coordinates the agreement on behalf of the world powers, said the pressure on Iran from Europe does not mean international sanctions will automatically be slapped on the Islamic Republic.

The aim of the move by France, Germany and Britain is “to find solutions and return [Iran] to full compliance within the framework of this agreement,” he said.

US President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled the US out in May 2018, saying the pact was insufficient and should be re-negotiated because it didn’t address Iran’s ballistic missile program or its involvement in regional conflicts. Since then he has reinstated American sanctions, which have been having a devastating effect on Iran’s economy.

In response, Iran has rolled back its commitments in stages to try and pressure the other countries involved to provide economic incentives to offset the American sanctions, but has said efforts from them so far have been insufficient.

After its top general, Qassem Soleimani, was killed in a US drone attack earlier this month, Iran announced what it said was its fifth and final step in violating the deal, saying it no longer will abide by any limitation to its enrichment activities. At the same time it again said all of its violations were reversible if it gets the economic relief it wants.

With the growing skepticism that the deal will be able to saved, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday suggesting that maybe the agreement could be somehow re-worked to address some of the concerns raised by Trump when he pulled the US out.

“Let’s work together to replace the JCPOA with the Trump deal,” he told the BBC.

Meanwhile, in its annual intelligence assessment presented to the country’s decision-makers, details of which were provided to the media Tuesday, the Israel Defense Forces said it did not believe Iran was currently interested in rapidly “breaking out” and developing an atomic bomb as quickly as possible.

The recent violations of the accord, the assessment said, did not signify an effort to develop a nuclear bomb as quickly as possible, but were rather meant to serve as a form of pressure on the other signatories of the JCPOA.

This photo taken on October 26, 2010, shows the inside of reactor at the Russian-built Bushehr nuclear power plant in southern Iran. (HAMED MALEKPOUR/FARS NEWS AGENCY/AFP)

However, should it choose to “break out” rapidly, by the fall of 2020 Iran would be able to produce the 1,300 kilograms (2,900 pounds) of low-enriched uranium needed to get the 25 kilograms (55 pounds) of highly enriched uranium necessary for a bomb, assuming it continued at current projected rates, according to Israeli assessments. The overall current assessment is that Iran is potentially two years from a bomb — the same time frame that has been assessed for some time.

The assessment also showed intelligence officials believe the killing of Soleimani represents an opportunity to curb or halt Tehran’s efforts to entrench itself militarily in Syria and its continued attempts to transfer technology needed for Hezbollah to produce its own precision-guided missiles within Lebanon.

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