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PM: Iran’s ongoing incitement shows US will sign deal ‘at any price’

Facing criticism from lawmakers for failing to thwart agreement, Netanyahu says nuclear deal seems ‘unavoidable’

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on July 12, 2015. (Emil Salman/POOL)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on July 12, 2015. (Emil Salman/POOL)

With indications that a final nuclear deal with Iran is imminent, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday accused world leaders of pursuing an agreement no matter what the cost.

Speaking in Jerusalem, Netanyahu did not name the US or any other countries negotiating with Iran in talks aimed at curbing Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for easing crippling economic sanctions. But he said fiery anti-American and anti-Israel rhetoric heard in Tehran over the weekend should have put the brakes on negotiations, which some officials say could wrap up as early as Monday.

“If the concessions continued even after these unequivocal calls for the destruction of those conducting the negotiations, it seems that there are those who are ready to make an agreement at any price – and this bad agreement is unavoidable,” Netanyahu said at a Likud faction meeting.

American and Israeli flags were burned as thousands chanted “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” at Friday’s Al-Quds Day rally in Tehran, which was attended by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

Netanyahu also said Israel’s stated determination to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons remained in force.

Israel’s defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, meanwhile, said the deal would force the Jewish state to “defend itself, by itself.” Israel’s assumption is that a “bad nuclear deal” is imminent, Ya’alon said.

Officials from the P5+1 and Iran held a 17th day of marathon negotiations in Vienna on Monday, but warned that issues remained despite the reports of an imminent deal.

Netanyahu said if it were not for Israeli efforts to curb Tehran’s ambitions, Iran would have already obtained nuclear weapons.

The prime minister’s statements came as opposition lawmakers ramped up their criticisms of his handling of the Iranian crisis. Zionist Union head Isaac Herzog charged that the “terrible” nuclear agreement would harm Israel’s security interests, and placed blame on Netanyahu for Israel’s lack of influence in the negotiation process. “Netanyahu will pay for all the mistakes he made in managing this crisis. The strategy he chose has failed,” Herzog said at a party faction meeting.

Also addressing his party Monday, Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid called on Netanyahu to resign over his futile efforts to thwart the “bad and problematic” agreement, actions that Lapid said resulted in damaged US-Israeli ties.

Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid speaks at a party meeting at the Knesset on June 1, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“Benjamin Netanyahu shouldn’t be the one to lead these efforts against the agreement. For years he led, almost on his own, the campaign against the Iranian nuclear program and he should be congratulated for that,” said Lapid. But because of the way he handled the issue in the past year, said Lapid, “the door of the White House is closed to him, half of Congress isn’t willing to listen to him, we weren’t represented in Vienna, our intelligence relations were damaged and we’re all paying the price for his complete failure in preventing the deal.”

Thus, said Lapid, Netanyahu “should resign because he knows better than anyone that while he is prime minister the United States won’t listen to us and the world won’t take our concerns seriously. He should resign because if you promise for years that only you can prevent this deal and then it’s signed – you’re responsible.”

Failing to meet a second imposed deadline on June 7, negotiators from Iran and P5+1 countries remained in Vienna over the weekend to hammer out the unresolved issues preventing a nuclear deal.

Earlier Monday, Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, sounded an optimistic tone, saying that an agreement was reached on “most technical issues,” including the appendices of a potential agreement.

Shortly after however, Iran’s nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi sounded more skeptical regarding the chances of reaching an agreement in the coming hours, and said a number of outstanding issues remained before an agreement with world powers could be reached.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif said that his team would stay at the negotiating table for “as long as necessary.”

Jonathan Beck contributed to this report.

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