PM reportedly unmoved by Kerry’s reassurances on Iran

Intelligence minister says there’s ‘no logical reason’ for Iran to retain a domestic enrichment program in deal with the West

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

US Secretary of State John Kerry (R) meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Villa Taverna, the US Ambassador's residency in Rome, on October 23, 2013. (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO/FLASH90)
US Secretary of State John Kerry (R) meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Villa Taverna, the US Ambassador's residency in Rome, on October 23, 2013. (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO/FLASH90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu landed at Ben Gurion Airport early Thursday morning, returning from a two-day trip to Rome during which he met with the Italian prime minister and the US secretary of state. The agenda focused on Iran’s nuclear program.

Netanyahu and John Kerry held a marathon meeting Wednesday evening in Rome. Before the two sat down, Kerry, apparently seeking to allay Israeli fears,said Iran would have to prove to the world that its nuclear program was not military in nature.

The prime minister was apparently unpersuaded by Kerry’s attempts to assure him of Washington’s resolve to maintain a tough position versus Iran despite the recently reinvigorated diplomatic process, The New York Times reported.

“We will need to know that actions are being taken, which make it clear, undeniably clear, fail-safe to the world, that whatever program is pursued is indeed a peaceful program,” Kerry told reporters in a brief press statement before a meeting that was originally scheduled to last seven hours.

“No deal is better than a bad deal,” he added, echoing a statement he made earlier this month.

Kerry added that the US would “pursue a diplomatic initiative but with eyes wide open,” and said Iran would have to be held to the same standards as other states if it was to prove its nuclear program is peaceful.

Netanyahu told America’s chief diplomat that ongoing negotiations with Iran should insist that Tehran end all enrichment on uranium, get rid of any fissile material and close water plants and underground bunkers whose sole conceivable purpose, he said, was to build a nuclear bomb.

“I think a partial deal that leaves Iran with these capabilities is a bad deal,” Netanyahu told Kerry.

On Thursday morning, Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz reiterated the Israeli government’s position that the West must step up its sanctions regime against Iran in order to push Iran’s leaders to relinquish all enrichment in any future deal on its nuclear program.

“Sanctions are the only tool that can cause the Iranians to give up their nuclear program,” Steinitz said in an interview with Israel Radio. “There are some areas in which there are differences in outlook [between Israel and the US], but we of course presented our position here, which is extremely clear: that the greater the pressure, the greater the chance to reach a good arrangement… We cannot, under any circumstances, remove the sanctions until there is a comprehensive agreement that prevents Iran from producing a nuclear weapon.”

Steinitz said that if, as Iran’s leaders profess, the country’s nuclear program was peaceful and aimed at producing energy, there should be nothing preventing them from agreeing to halt their domestic enrichment program.

“There is no logical reason for the Iranians to turn it down and demand they retain enrichment capability, unless they want to remain a very short way from the ability to create a bomb,” he said. “We, of course, cannot agree to that.”

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