Now is not the time to talk to Iran, Netanyahu says en route to London

Now is not the time to talk to Iran, Netanyahu says en route to London

A day after Tehran announces further violation of nuclear deal, and with Trump saying meeting with Rouhani is ‘possible,’ PM urges increased pressure on regime

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi, left, and Air Force chief Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin, center, at the Nevatim Air Force Base on July 9, 2019. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi, left, and Air Force chief Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin, center, at the Nevatim Air Force Base on July 9, 2019. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Amid efforts to broker a diplomatic solution to the nuclear impasse between the United States and Iran, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday morning called for amping up the pressure on the regime in Tehran.

“This is not the time to conduct talks with Iran — this is the time to increase the pressure on Iran,” he declared as he made his way to London for meetings with his British counterpart and a a top US defense official.

On Wednesday, US President Donald Trump did not rule out meeting with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani in the near future. Asked by reporters at the White House whether he might meet with Rouhani on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, which takes place in New York later this month, Trump responded: “Sure, anything is possible.”

Also on Wednesday, Rouhani announced additional steps away from the 2015 nuclear agreement, vowing to accelerate nuclear activities if Europe fails to provide satisfy Tehran’s demands.

“From Friday, we will witness research and development on different kinds of centrifuges and new centrifuges and also whatever is needed for enriching uranium in an accelerated way,” the president said in an address broadcast on state TV. “All limitations on our Research and Development will be lifted on Friday.”

“This morning we were informed of another violation, more defiance, by Iran, this time in its striving to attain nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu told reporters Thursday as he boarded a Boeing 777 to London. “This joins Iran’s aggressive acts against international shipping and against countries in the region, as well as its efforts to carry out murderous attacks against the State of Israel, efforts that have not ceased.”

During the hastily arranged trip to the British capital, Netanyahu will meet with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was busy this week handling a revolt within his Conservative party over his controversial plan to leave the European Union by the end of next month.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (R) shakes hands with his British counterpart Boris Johnson during a meeting in Tehran on December 9, 2017. (AFP Photo/Atta Kenare)

The UK is one of the signatories to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and continues to firmly back the agreement, but has recently clashed with the Islamic Republic after it detained a UK-flagged oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz. British authorities had previously seized a tanker carrying Iranian oil off the coast of Gibraltar.

Netanyahu is also scheduled to meet with US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, who is currently in London.

With Esper, who was sworn into office less than two months ago, Netanyahu, who is also defense minister, wants to talk about “Israel’s security needs,” according to the Prime Minister’s Office. The two spoke by telephone on Tuesday night and decided to expand on their conversation in London, Netanyahu’s office said.

In this July 8, 2019, photo, acting US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper waits for the arrival of Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani at the Pentagon. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Earlier this week, Hebrew media reported that Jerusalem has been discussing with the US administration a grand presidential gesture underlining America’s commitment to Israeli security in the coming days, including a possible statement on the two allies’ intent to enter into a defense pact.

The most likely action, the newspaper said, was a vow by Trump that the US will defend the Jewish state from any potential existential threat, though such a statement would have few practical implications. The proposed declaration has largely been seen as an effort by Trump to boost Netanyahu ahead of the September 17 elections.

Israel Air Force chief Major General Amikam Norkin and IDF Head of Operations Directorate Major General Aharon Haliva are accompanying Netanyahu on the snap visit, which was announced by the Prime Minister’s Office the day before.

The timing of Netanyahu’s trip to London raised some eyebrows among political analysts, given the turmoil currently engulfing the British political system that is sure to take priority over any other matter in 10 Downing Street.

Agencies and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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