Netanyahu: US must confront Iran ‘as an enemy’

In address to Jewish leaders, PM says ‘alternative to a bad deal is not war’ but stronger sanctions

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a video address to the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly, November 11, 2014 (Photo credit: Youtube screen capture)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a video address to the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly, November 11, 2014 (Photo credit: Youtube screen capture)

WASHINGTON — Less than two weeks before the deadline for a nuclear deal with Iran, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned an American audience that the US should not see Iran as a potential partner but rather as an “enemy of America.” Speaking by video to the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly on Tuesday afternoon, Netanyahu asserted that Iran should be “confronted as an enemy.”

“The Islamic State of Iran is not a partner of America. It’s an enemy of America. And it should be confronted as an enemy,” Netanyahu told the audience who were gathered for the conference’s final plenary, using a play on Iran’s official moniker — the Islamic Republic of Iran — and the Islamic State terrorist group.

Over the past few months, both the US and Iran have worked toward the common goal of reducing Islamic State’s influence in Iraq — but the Obama administration denies that it has any intention of engaging in military cooperation with Tehran. “Some have suggested that Iran can help solve the problems of the Middle East. But Iran is not the solution. It’s the problem,” Netanyahu asserted.

Negotiations with Iran are limping into their final two weeks before the November 24 deadline to reach a comprehensive agreement under the Joint Plan of Action. Earlier this week, US Secretary of State John Kerry met with his Iranian counterpart in an effort to bridge a number of key gaps, but on Sunday, US President Barack Obama acknowledged that the distance between Iran and P5+1 member states’ negotiating positions remained large.

Israel has consistently pushed for negotiators to demand the dismantling of Iran’s nuclear facilities that are capable of enriching uranium or plutonium that could be used to manufacture a nuclear weapon. While negotiators have considered allowing Iran to maintain low-grade enrichment, the fate of the plutonium facility at Arak remains one of the major sticking points.

“Our goal must be not merely to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons today. We must also prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons tomorrow,” Netanyahu said. “Avoiding a bad deal and maintaining strong pressure on Iran should be the policy of all responsible governments.”

“The worst thing that can happen is for the international community to agree to a deal that leaves Iran as a threshold nuclear power,” he warned. “The alternative to a bad deal is not war. It means giving sanctions, and even stronger ones, more time to work.”

Speaking a day earlier, one of Obama’s top Middle East policy advisers assured conference attendees that the US would “only accept an agreement that blocks all of the potential paths to get a nuclear weapon.”

Philip Gordon said that the US was still focused on reaching an agreement by the November 24 deadline, and that any deal made after that point would be less advantageous for Iran.

If no deal is reached by that late November date, and barring any further extension, the Joint Plan of Action agreed upon in November 2013 will expire and the full force of US-led sanctions against Iran will resume. Sanctions have been relaxed in concert with Iranian compliance with the terms of the Joint Plan of Action, and recent months have seen a flowering of the once-stagnant Iranian economy.

Both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill have warned that should no deal be reached, Congress is likely to try to impose additional sanctions against Tehran in an effort to pressure Iran to return, cowed, to the negotiating table.

Although Netanyahu pressed Tuesday for additional sanctions, Gordon said that he was concerned that such steps could endanger the cohesiveness of the international sanctions regime currently in place. Gordon argued that the US had sanctions in place against Iran for almost three decades with little impact, until the international community joined in the effort to pressure Tehran regarding its nuclear program.

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