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PM: Israel not opposed to a civilian nuke program for Iran

In apparent riposte to Obama, Netanyahu says he is only against Tehran’s military ambitions, warns deal puts Iran ‘on threshold of nuclear arsenal’ within 13 years

Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi (R) seen with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a joint press conference at Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, Italy on August 29, 2015. (Kobi Gideon / GPO)
Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi (R) seen with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a joint press conference at Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, Italy on August 29, 2015. (Kobi Gideon / GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday said Israel does not object to allowing Iran to have a civilian nuclear program, only a military one.

In a meeting with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Netanyahu said last month’s nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers allows the Islamic Republic to retain infrastructure that would be unnecessary for a peaceful nuclear program.

The prime minister was apparently responding to comments Friday by US President Barack Obama, who suggested critics of the Iran deal were against the Islamic Republic having any sort of nuclear program, “even a peaceful one.”

“Let me make clear, Matteo, that Israel doesn’t oppose a civilian nuclear program in Iran. We oppose a military nuclear program in Iran,” Netanyahu said during an official visit to Italy. “And regrettably, the deal with Iran allows it to keep and expand a formidable nuclear infrastructure that is completely unnecessary for civilian nuclear purposes, but is entirely necessary for the production of nuclear weapons.”

Under the deal, as various sunset clauses take effect, “Iran within 13 years (will have) the ability to make as many centrifuges as they want, enrich as much uranium as they want to whatever level that they want,” Netanyahu charged.

“And this will put the Iranian Islamic state that practices terrorism worldwide, it will put it on the threshold of an entire nuclear arsenal,” he added.

President Barack Obama in a webcast for the American Jewish community on August 28, 2015
President Barack Obama in a webcast for the American Jewish community on August 28, 2015

In a Friday address to American Jews, Obama had said: “In the best of all worlds, Iran would have no nuclear infrastructure whatsoever… unfortunately, that’s not a reality that’s attainable.”

“Those who say they want a better deal, that this isn’t a good deal, and they want a better deal, typically mean that not only do they want Iran not to have nuclear weapons, but they don’t want it to have any nuclear program at all, even a peaceful one,” the US president said.

Obama on Friday compared tensions between the US and Israel over the nuclear deal to a family feud and said he expected quick improvements in ties between the longtime allies once the accord was implemented.

“Like all families, sometimes there are going to be disagreements,” Obama said in a webcast with Jewish Americans. “And sometimes people get angrier about disagreements in families than with folks that aren’t family.”

The president’s comments came as momentum for the nuclear accord grew on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers will vote next month on a resolution to disapprove of the deal. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., became the 30th senator to publicly back the agreement, saying Friday that it was a good deal for America and for allies like Israel.

If Senate Democrats can amass 41 votes in favor of the deal, they could block passage of the disapproval resolution. Obama has vowed to veto the resolution if it passes, and Democrats could hold off Republican efforts to override his veto if they get 34 votes — just four more than they have now.

The looming congressional confrontation has sparked a summer of intense debate between supporters and opponents of the nuclear accord. The deliberations have also divided Jewish Americans, with leaders of many organizations expressing concern about long-term damage to the community.

The president encouraged skeptics of the agreement to “overcome the emotions” that have infused the debate and evaluate the accord based on facts.

“I would suggest that in terms of the tone of this debate everybody keep in mind that we’re all pro-Israel,” he said. “We have to make sure that we don’t impugn people’s motives.”

The US negotiated alongside Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China for nearly two years before finalizing a landmark accord to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for billions of dollars in sanctions relief.

As he has in previous speeches and interviews, Obama sought to refute criticism of the accord point by point. He disputed the notion that Iran would funnel the bulk of the money it receives from the sanctions relief into terrorism, saying Iranian leaders are more likely to try to bolster their weak economy. He also said the agreement wasn’t built on trusting Iran’s government, which frequently spouts anti-American and anti-Israeli rhetoric.

“It’s precisely because we’re not counting on the nature of the regime to change that it’s so important for us to make sure they don’t have a nuclear weapon,” he said.

Friday’s webcast was hosted by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and The Jewish Federations of North America. Organizers said thousands of people participated and questions submitted online were selected by the moderators.

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