Tensions keeping US from assuring Israel’s security in nuke deal — report

Kerry says Netanyahu wants interim Iran agreement extended; opposition group claims Tehran has secret nuclear facility

John Kerry, far left, speaking to US lawmakers in Washington on February 24, 2015. (photo credit: US State Department)
John Kerry, far left, speaking to US lawmakers in Washington on February 24, 2015. (photo credit: US State Department)

The ongoing dispute between the White House and the Prime Minister’s Office over how to tackle Iran’s nuclear program is preventing the two countries from discussing security guarantees for Israel as part of the emerging Iran deal, a source close to the Obama administration told Israel’s Channel 2 Tuesday.

The revelation came as Secretary of State John Kerry told US lawmakers that the United States will know soon if Iran is willing to seal a deal to assure the world it is not seeking to develop a nuclear bomb, while he simultaneously lashed out at critics of the negotiations, notably including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu .

“The policy is Iran will not get a nuclear weapon,” Kerry said. “And anybody running around right now, jumping in to say, well, we don’t like the deal, or this or that, doesn’t know what the deal is. There is no deal yet.”

“I don’t know anybody who looks at the interim agreement and doesn’t say, wow, this has really worked — including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who would like to see it extended, having opposed it vehemently in the beginning, calling it the deal of the century for Iran,” he continued.

Speaking earlier Tuesday, Netanyahu said information had reached him that led him to worry over the emerging nuclear deal.

On Monday, the Associated Press reported that a deal coming together would restrict Iranian nuclear activity for a decade, while leaving 6,500 centrifuges spinning, but then allow it to ramp back up.

“This agreement, if indeed it is signed, will allow Iran to become a nuclear threshold state. That is, with the consent of the major powers, Iran – which openly declares its intention to destroy the State of Israel – will receive a license to develop the production of bombs,” Netanyahu said.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest denied the reports of the phased deal at a press conference Tuesday.

Netanyahu also said he would stick to his plan to speak against the deal before the US Congress next week, saying the lawmakers were “likely to be the final brake before the agreement.”

That speech has raised tensions with the US and created an all-time low in ties between Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama.

A source in the White House told Israel’s Channel 2 that those tensions could harm the ability of the US to ensure Israel’s security as part of any nuclear deal.

“The dispute with Netanyahu prevents all possibility for discussing security guarantees for Israel as part of the emerging Iran deal,” the source was quoted saying.

Kerry, speaking to US lawmakers fresh from talks in Geneva with his Iranian counterpart, stressed that US policy was that Tehran would not acquire a nuclear weapon.

He sounded a note of caution, saying he was not sure yet whether a comprehensive agreement was within reach.

But world powers grouped under the so-called P5+1 “had made inroads” since reaching an interim deal with Iran in November 2013 on reining in its suspect nuclear program, Kerry said.

“We’ve gained unprecedented insight into it,” Kerry told the Senate appropriations committee at the start of two days of intense congressional foreign policy budget hearings.

“And we expect to know soon whether or not Iran is willing to put together an acceptable, verifiable plan,” he said.

The so-called P5+1 group of Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany are trying to strike an accord that would prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear bomb.

In return, the West would ease punishing sanctions imposed on Tehran over its nuclear program, which Iran insists is purely civilian in nature.

Opposition group alleges secret Iranian facilities

Kerry’s comments coincided with allegations by a prominent Iranian opposition group that Iran has been conducting secret nuclear research and some uranium enrichment using sophisticated machinery at an underground facility in the suburbs northeast of Tehran.

The group offered no proof, but said it had learned of the activities through years of reporting from its sources inside Iran, including people who had visited radiation-shielded tunnels under what is purported to be a ministry of intelligence building.

US intelligence officials had no immediate comment on the claims. The group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, has in the past revealed secret Iranian nuclear sites, most prominently when it disclosed a hidden nuclear facility in Natanz in 2002. But it has also made claims that have been disputed by experts, including its 2010 announcement of a nuclear facility at Qazvin that has not been substantiated.

At a news conference in Washington, group leaders described a 62-acre site they dubbed Lavizan-3, which they said included four underground tunnels below a building used by Iran’s intelligence agency. The facility was built in great secrecy between 2004 and 2008, they said, by companies that had been affiliated with Iran’s nuclear program. Alireza Jafarzadeh, who helps run the group’s Washington office, said the group’s allegations of ongoing nuclear research are based on more than 200 intelligence reports over several years.

The national council is closely tied to the Mojahedin-e-Khalq, an Iranian group that until 2012 was labeled a terrorist organization by the US — but which also includes among its backers a list of prominent former American officials, including former directors of the CIA and FBI. The group’s latest allegations seemed timed to disrupt Iran’s nuclear talks with the West.

David Albright, president of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, expressed skepticism in an interview, saying it didn’t make sense that Iran would go to such expense to build an underground facility to do research on enrichment that could be carried out undetected in a simple laboratory or warehouse. He noted that Iran built and maintains a host of underground military facilities that are unrelated to nuclear research.

AFP contributed to this report

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