Sniping again at Kerry, Netanyahu demands ‘better’ Iran deal

PM vows to continue speaking against US-backed interim deal; US ambassador says there’s ‘no personal clash’

Yifa Yaakov is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Screenshot from a video posted by the Prime Minister's Office, showing PM Benjamin Netanyahu urging the US not to rush to sign Geneva deal with Tehran, on November 8, 2013. (photo credit: GPO video)
Screenshot from a video posted by the Prime Minister's Office, showing PM Benjamin Netanyahu urging the US not to rush to sign Geneva deal with Tehran, on November 8, 2013. (photo credit: GPO video)

The West should push for a “better” deal with Iran before agreeing to any eased sanctions, as Tehran’s financial woes will push it to make greater concessions, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday as Iran and world powers prepared for the next round of talks in Geneva on November 20.

His comments represented the latest round in a very public row between the prime minister and US Secretary of State John Kerry over the terms of the deal Kerry and the other P5+1 powers offered to Iran in Geneva over the weekend.

“We will continue to speak out” against the deal that is taking shape, Netanyahu said, stressing that “this process has a goal… to prevent Iran attaining a nuclear weapons capability.”

Netanyahu said Iran’s economic crisis was so severe that Western powers were in a position to demand more concessions from Tehran before agreeing to ease up on sanctions. World powers had reportedly pitched easing sanctions on gold, petrochemicals, auto and airplane parts as part of a deal with Tehran, as well as unfreezing approximately $3 billion in assets, in return for Iran freezing its nuclear program in an interim deal.

Netanyahu’s latest criticism of a deal he has also described as “bad” and “dangerous” came just hours after Kerry batted away Netanyahu’s criticism, saying that the Israeli prime minister “needs to recognize that no agreement” with Iran had been reached and that his opposition was premature. “The time to oppose [a deal] is when you see what it is,” he said. “Not to oppose the effort to find out what is possible.”

The secretary of state noted that the US has “been meeting constantly” with Israeli officials to understand the progress Iran has made in its nuclear program. “We are confident that what we are doing can actually protect Israel more effectively and provide greater security,” he said.

Interviewed on Israel’s Channel 2 news Monday night, US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro insisted it was “impossible to assess an agreement” that hasn’t been finalized — a contention Netanyahu has specifically rejected, saying it would be too late to speak out after the deal was done.

Shapiro also claimed “there’s certainly no personal clash” between Netanyahu and Kerry, saying “they’re good friends… they know each other well.. they can talk openly… there’s friendship there.” He allowed that “sometimes there are disagreements,” but said the US and Israeli leaderships “never disagree on the big strategic goals.”

While Netanyahu has complained that the deal being offered to the Iranians is one in which “they got everything and paid nothing,” Shapiro said it offered only very limited, targeted and reversible sanctions relief, “but not on the major sanctions,” in return for significant concessions. “It was Iran that was not prepared to sign the agreement” on Saturday night in Geneva, Shapiro said. “They needed to go home and consult.” That, said the ambassador, was a “sign that the agreement that was proposed was very tough — hard for them to say yes to.”

Tehran has been eager to reach an agreement to ease international measures against it that have halted most oil exports and crippled the country’s economy.

But a key stumbling block has been Iran’s insistence that the international community recognize its “right” to enrich uranium as a signer of a UN treaty governing the spread of nuclear technology — also frequently pointing out that Israel has not signed the accord.

Speaking at a meeting with Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders, Netanyahu stressed that Israel and the P5+1 had the same objective — preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon also cautioned on Monday against lifting or easing the sanctions on Iran, telling the GA in Jerusalem that only tough sanctions could serve as an alternative to military action.

Ya’alon warned that if the international community settled for an agreement that did not require Iran to stop enriching uranium, it would miss an opportunity to pressure Tehran into making more significant concessions.

Briefing Israeli journalists in a Jerusalem hotel, an American official said Monday that even after limited sanctions relief in the framework of an interim deal, as proposed by the West, Iran’s economy would continue to deteriorate. The official also said it wasn’t the French but the Iranians who had rejected a temporary deal Saturday in Geneva, contrary to previous reports.

“The United States and Israel have worked very closely and consulted often, in the way to proceed forward. Some days we may disagree on tactics,” the senior official said, “but we absolutely agree on the objective and we absolutely agree that we need a comprehensive agreement and we hope to get one very soon.”

AP contributed to this report.

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