US negotiator: Israel’s security concerns legitimate, but nuke deal best option

Wendy Sherman vows Iran sanctions to be lifted gradually; says a military strike could only set back program 1-3 years at most

File: Wendy Sherman in Jerusalem, February 2014. (YouTube/US Embassy Tel Aviv)
File: Wendy Sherman in Jerusalem, February 2014. (YouTube/US Embassy Tel Aviv)

Wendy Sherman, the head of the US negotiating team in talks with Iran, on Monday said that Israel’s security concerns over the nuclear deal were legitimate, but maintained that a final agreement between world powers and Tehran was both possible to achieve by the June 30 deadline and better than the “alternative.” A military strike, she said, could only set back Iran one to three years at most.

Sherman, who is under secretary of state for political affairs, spoke to Israeli reporters via a conference call in part of a wide-ranging effort to explain and bolster support for a deal that has sparked widespread concern in Israel. She said the US plans on consulting with Israel over its security needs, to which Washington is committed. She said sanctions would only be lifted gradually, based on Iran’s compliance to the deal, contradicting demands by Iranian leaders that the sanctions be eased immediately.

“Is it a perfect deal? No. There is no such thing as a perfect deal,” she said, according to Hebrew media, adding that “there is no formula or option that will be more effective than the diplomatic track.”

The US accepts that Jerusalem’s concerns are legitimate, she added, but noted the deal that was reached is the only way to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb.

Sherman also vowed that inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities would be wide-ranging, intrusive and effective. On Saturday night, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the planned inspections were “not serious.” On Sunday, Netanyahu set out his terms for a better deal. For a start, he said, “instead of allowing Iran to preserve and develop its nuclear capabilities, a better deal would significantly roll back these capabilities – for example, by shutting down the illicit underground facilities that Iran concealed for years from the international community.”

In Monday’s call, Sherman also explained why the US did not take up an Israeli demand that the nuclear deal, aimed at curbing Iran’s ability to produce nuclear weapons, should also include a recognition from Tehran of the Jewish state’s right to exist and an end to Iranian calls to destroy Israel.

The diplomat said that it does not make sense to tie recognition of Israel or Iranian support for worldwide terror to an already complicated negotiation, and said that those issues should be dealt with separately.

“We believe we can’t condition Iran not getting a nuclear weapon on other issues,” continued Sherman. “Getting the deal is difficult enough. Israel’s right to exist and Iran’s actions in the region will be dealt with on a parallel track.”

Sherman’s briefing came as US President Barack Obama prepared to hold two meetings in Washington with Jewish leaders as part of a determined campaign by the White House to promote the Iran deal. The advocacy came after the deal, formulated at Lausanne in Switzerland, drew strong criticism from Netanyahu and Israeli officials, who dismissed the agreement for falling short of the measures needed to ensure Tehran doesn’t produce an atomic bomb.

Earlier this month, world powers reached a framework agreement with Iran that would reduce — but not completely remove — the number of uranium-enrichment centrifuges kept spinning in Iranian nuclear sites, as well as impose a strict and comprehensive inspection regime on facilities.

Sherman’s assurances on the gradual relieving of sanctions came as Russian President Vladmir Putin announced that, in light of the progress made in the nuclear talks, he was lifting the hold on the sale of advanced S-300 air-defense missiles to Iran. The missile sale, which dates back to 2007, was strongly opposed by the US and Israel. Russia withheld delivery of the missiles in 2010 after global sanctions on Iran forbade arms sales to the country.

Global powers must resolve a series of difficult technical issues by the June 30 deadline for a final nuclear deal, including the steps for lifting global sanctions imposed on Iran, and lingering questions over the possible military dimensions of its nuclear program.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who will have the final say on any deal, has plunged the accord into doubt by suggesting that “nothing is binding,” while President Hassan Rouhani demanded that sanctions be immediately lifted when any deal is signed.

Global powers Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States have said sanctions will only be gradually eased and want a mechanism to ensure they can be swiftly reimposed if Iran breaks its word.

AFP contributed to this report.

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