PM: Stop ‘courting’ an Iran that’s refusing to come clean on its nuke program

IAEA’s new report on Tehran’s failure to provide ‘any explanations’ is further proof that it cannot be trusted, Netanyahu warns

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, January 4, 2015. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/POOL/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, January 4, 2015. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/POOL/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday that a UN report critical of Iran’s evasiveness over its nuclear program was further proof that the international community should reconsider the direction of its negotiations with Tehran.

“The IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) report again demonstrates that Iran refuses to come clean to the international community about its preparations for producing nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said. World powers should not be “wooing Iran for its agreement” to a deal that would enable it to continue uranium enrichment, he said.

The IAEA report stated that Tehran is being evasive and ambiguous in its dealings with the UN’s nuclear watchdog agency, preventing the organization from launching a thorough assessment of the country’s nuclear program.

“The world powers should not be courting Iran in order to have it accept a deal that would leave it with the possibility of producing nuclear weapons, while (Tehran) refuses to divulge the details on its nuclear weapons program,” the prime minister stated at a meeting with members of the Magen David Adom emergency service in Jerusalem.

On Thursday the UN nuclear agency reported deadlock in its probe of allegations that Iran has worked on atomic arms. The IAEA’s assessment could dim prospects that Tehran and six world powers will finalize a full nuclear deal by their June deadline, although the US-led negotiators appear determined to try to achieve a deal, despite Netanyahu’s relentless criticisms and concerns.

The US and five other powers insist that Tehran must fully cooperate with the IAEA’s probe for any nuclear agreement that grants Iran total sanctions relief. “Iran has not provided any explanations” on the suspicions, according to a confidential copy of the IAEA report obtained by The Associated Press. The agency did note that Iran was honoring commitments to put temporary restraints on its atomic activities as it negotiates on the long-term nuclear deal.

Iran agreed a year ago to work with the IAEA. But like previous probes, the investigation quickly stalled over Tehran’s insistence that it never wanted or worked on such weapons and that any evidence to the contrary was fabricated.

An International Atomic Energy Agency inspector at the Natanz nuclear power plant south of Tehran on January, 20, 2014 (Photo credit: Kazem Ghane/IRNA/AFP)
An International Atomic Energy Agency inspector at the Natanz nuclear power plant south of Tehran on January, 20, 2014 (Photo credit: Kazem Ghane/IRNA/AFP)

Diplomats have said Washington is willing to extend the IAEA investigation, if an agreement is reached by June that constrains Iran’s uranium enrichment program and other activities that could be turned to making nuclear arms. They say the US would set a time limit on such an extension and keep some sanctions on Tehran in place until the IAEA delivers its ruling. That, however, would satisfy neither hardliners in Iran who want a full lifting of sanctions, nor critics in the US Congress worried that any deal would fall short of seriously crimping Iran’s ability to make nuclear arms.

Netanyahu has long been opposed to the apparent deal taking shape in talks with Iran. The prime minister believes that the Iranians are negotiating in bad faith and that world powers are walking into a bad deal which would allow Tehran to come very close to a bomb while removing all sanctions from the regime.

Netanyahu said Thursday that he knows the details of the deal being forged with Iran over its nuclear program, asking “What is there to hide?” after the US said it was withholding some information from Israel on the talks.

His remarks came a day after the Obama administration publicly acknowledged it is keeping some specifics from Israel because it fears the close US ally has leaked sensitive information to try to scuttle the talks — and will continue to do so.

“We know that Tehran knows the details of the talks. Now I tell you that Israel also knows the details of the proposed agreement,” Netanyahu said. “I think this is a bad agreement that is dangerous for the state of Israel, and not only for it.”

The prime minister’s remarks echoed similar statements he made Wednesday during a meeting with US Senator David Perdue (R-GA): “The Iranians of course know the details of that proposal and Israel does too… So when we say that the current proposal would lead to a bad deal, a dangerous deal, we know what we’re talking about, Senator.”

Netanyahu has angered the White House with his open opposition to a deal he believes threatens Israel’s existence, and by accepting a Republican invitation to address Congress about Iran in early March without consulting the White House, a breach of diplomatic protocol.

US President Barack Obama and US Secretary of State John Kerry indicated early on that they would not meet with Netanyahu during his visit, with the State Department announcing Thursday that Kerry was likely to be out of town during the speech. Earlier this week, officials in Vice President Joe Biden’s office said he would be on a state visit to Latin America when Netanyahu addresses the joint session of Congress.

The planned speech has caused an uproar in Israel as well, coming just two weeks before national elections. Netanyahu has rejected the criticism, saying it is his duty to lobby against the nuclear deal.

US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki on Thursday questioned Netanyahu’s claim to knowing the details of the deal. “Then the fact is that he knows more than the negotiators, in that there is no deal yet,” she said. “Obviously, if there’s a deal we’ll be explaining the deal and explaining why and how it prevents Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. And if that’s the case and we come to a deal, it’s hard to see how anyone wouldn’t see that’s to the benefit of the international community,” she said.

Israel views a nuclear-armed Iran as a threat to its very existence, citing Tehran’s repeated calls for Israel’s destruction, its long-range missile program and its support for anti-Israel terror groups like Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Iran insists that its nuclear program is for purely civilian purposes.

Netanyahu’s National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen is in Washington for talks with top US officials, despite the strains between the allies. On Wednesday, he met with Obama’s senior Iran negotiator Wendy Sherman, and Kerry made an unscheduled stop at their session, evidently to indicate that communication between the two leaderships was still continuing at senior levels.

Kerry is set to resume negotiations with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif at the weekend. Sherman and her team will meet in the coming days in Geneva with Iranian negotiators for a new round of talks.

Cohen and his US counterpart Susan Rice also met at the White House later Thursday. According to Bernadette Meehan, the National Security Council spokeswoman, “They discussed a range of issues of mutual concern, including Iran’s nuclear program, the US-Israel bilateral relationship, and Israeli-Palestinian relations. “The national security advisers agreed to continue close consultations on these and other issues.”

On Monday, Netanyahu left no doubt whatsoever that he will go ahead with his speech to Congress, saying that no responsible Israeli prime minister could “refuse an invitation to speak on a matter that could affect our very existence” before the world’s most important parliament.

Netanyahu warned: “The current proposal to Iran would endanger Israel. It would enable Iran to break out to its first nuclear device within an unacceptably short time. And it would allow Iran to build an industrial capability to enrich uranium that could provide the fuel for many bombs in the coming years. A regime that openly calls for Israel’s destruction would thus have finally the means to realize its genocidal aims.”

JTA contributed to this report.

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