JERUSALEM – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel will do everything it can to prevent world powers from reaching a “bad and dangerous deal” with Iran over its disputed nuclear program.
He told a weekly Cabinet meeting Sunday that with the United States and Iran aiming for a framework agreement next month, “we will do everything to thwart a bad and dangerous deal that will cast a dark cloud on the future of the state of Israel and its security.”
The Israeli leader has repeatedly said Iran is acting in bad faith in the negotiations.
The United States, the other members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany hope to clinch a deal setting long-term limits on Tehran’s uranium enrichment.
Netanyahu’s comments come amid an uproar over his planned speech about Iran before the U.S. Congress next month. The visit was arranged behind the White House’s back. U.S. Congressional leaders have also threatened to levy new sanctions against Iran before negotiations have concluded, something the White House and world leaders have railed against.
With an approaching deadline on reaching a nuclear deal with Tehran, Iranian officials on Sunday signaled a willingness to come to an agreement, with Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif telling a gathering of the world’s top diplomats and defense officials that “this is the opportunity.”
Additionally, Iran’s paramount leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Sunday he and the Iranian people “firmly” backed a nuclear compromise with the West, his strongest signal to date that he is behind Tehran’s negotiations with six major powers, according to Reuters.
“I am for the continuation of the talks and reaching a good agreement. Definitely, the Iranian nation will not oppose any accord that upholds its dignity and respect,” Khamenei said in an official statement IRNA news agency.
But Khamenei added that any agreement must be “in one stage”, incorporate all details and allow no “loopholes” that could be used to extract further concessions from Tehran.
The United States and its five negotiating partners, the other members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany, hope to clinch a deal setting long-term limits on Tehran’s enrichment of uranium and other activity that could produce material for use in nuclear weapons.
Both sides are under increasing pressure ahead of two deadlines: to agree on main points by late March, and to reach a comprehensive deal by June 30.
Zarif said that now was the window of opportunity to come up with a final deal. He met individually at the Munich security conference with each country involved, except France which was scheduled later Sunday.
“This is the opportunity to do it, and we need to seize this opportunity,” he said. “It may not be repeated.”
Following a 90-minute morning meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, their second meeting on the sidelines of the conference, Zarif said he felt that progress had been made in the past months and suggested it would be unproductive to further extend negotiations.
“I do not believe another extension is in the interest of anybody,” he said. “We’re reaching the point where it is quite possible to make an agreement … and I do not believe anything will be different a year down the road.”
The U.S. State Department characterized Sunday’s discussion between Zarif and Kerry as “constructive.” In their meeting on Friday, Kerry pressed Zarif on the Obama administration’s desire to meet an end of March target date for the outline of a nuclear agreement.
Iran says its program is solely for energy production and medical research purposes. It has agreed to some restrictions in exchange for billions of dollars in relief from U.S. economic sanctions.
From Tehran, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all major decisions,
said in a statement on his website Sunday that Iran agrees with Washington that no agreement is better than an agreement that doesn’t meet its interests.
Zarif suggested if it took slightly longer to come to an agreement than the set deadlines, it would not “be the end of the world.”
Zarif said all sanctions against his country should be lifted, saying that if they had been intended to stop its nuclear ambitions they had failed. He said when sanctions had been imposed, Iran had 200 centrifuges, and “now we have 20,000.”
“Sanctions are a liability, you need to get rid of them if you want a solution,” he said.
© 2015 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Netanyahu calls for increased pressure on Iran to abandon nuclear ambitions
Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Sunday an extension of nuclear talks with Iran should be used to further increase pressure on the country to give up its atomic weapons ambitions and capabilities. His comments came as US secretary of state John Kerry cited movement in the negotiations and urged patience while vowing that the process would not continue without “tangible progress”.
Speaking to the same middle east policy conference in Washington, Netanyahu and Kerry both pointed to cooperation between moderate Arab states and others in the fight against Islamic State (Isis) extremists as a potentially hopeful sign for defeating the group and improving prospects for Arab-Israeli peace. But they also noted tremendous hurdles in achieving those goals.
Netanyahu said it was fortunate that international negotiators from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany did not meet last month’s deadline for a deal with Iran because he said an agreement reached then “would have effectively left Iran as a threshold nuclear power.”
Those talks have been extended until July 2015, with the goal of reaching a framework for a deal by the end of March.
Netanyahu said Israel’s “voice” and “concerns” had played a critical role in preventing a bad deal from being reached in November. He added it is imperative to use the extra time to step up and reinforce demands that Iran prove its nuclear program is peaceful as it claims and not, as many suspect, a cover for atomic weapons development.
“Now we must use the time available to increase the pressure on Iran to dismantle its nuclear weapons capability,” he said in a videotaped message to the conference at The Brookings Institution.
Netanyahu did not elaborate on how the pressure should be increased. Some Israeli officials and US lawmakers have called for the US to impose more sanctions on Iran but the Obama administration is resisting this, saying more sanctions would violate the terms of an interim agreement reached with Iran and crater the ongoing negotiations.
In his remarks, which followed Netanyahu’s taped speech, Kerry acknowledged differences between Israel and the US on how to approach Iran but stressed that the two countries’ goals are the same.
“While we may disagree on tactics from time to time, when it comes to the core strategic goal – no nuclear weapon – there is not an inch of daylight between the United States and the state of Israel,” he said.
Kerry maintained that the interim nuclear accord with Iran is holding and that fears that the Iranians would cheat have proven to be unfounded thus far. He said new ideas on how to achieve a more durable agreement have been presented and that it was his hope that the late March target for a framework would be met with little need for further negotiation.
“We have no intention of negotiating forever,” Kerry said. “Absent measurable progress, who knows how much longer this could go on.”
But he also stressed the importance of sealing a deal that keeps Iran from having nuclear weapons.
“If we succeed in reaching an agreement, the entire world, including Israel, will be safer for it,” he said.
In his comments, Netanyahu said that cooperation between Israel and moderate Arab states in the fight against Islamic extremism could “open the door to peace” between Israel and the Palestinians. However, he said that the Palestinian leadership must end incitement against Israel if that is to occur.
“The collapse of the old order has made clear to pragmatic Arab governments that Israel is not the enemy,” he said.
Kerry expressed similar thoughts and noted that common cause against extremists was already “making steady, measurable progress” against Isis in Syria and Iraq.
Kerry, who invested considerable time and energy in an unsuccessful attempt to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, said he believed that redefining strategic interests among states throughout the middle east could lay the groundwork for a resumption in talks.
He lamented, however, that conditions are not yet ripe for new peace negotiations, particularly due to heightened tensions between Israel and the Palestinians that have led to an unprecedented amount of frustration. And Kerry once again denounced continued Israeli settlement activity as “undermining the prospects for peace”.
Another wild card, he said, are Israel’s upcoming elections.
Elsewhere on Sunday, Syria said Israeli jets had bombed two installations, one near the capital, Damascus, and the second in a town near the Lebanese border. A report by Syrian state television described the attack as “an aggression”.
Palestinian President: Closing Jerusalem holy site ‘a declaration of war’
In an interview with NBC on Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei cannot be trusted because he heads a “cult” that is “wild in its ambition and aggression” adding it is a “messianic, apocalyptic, radical regime.”
Asked whether he believes the Iranians chose to elect President Hassan Rohani because they want change and a lifting of the sanctions, Netanyahu said he’s sure they do, but stressed that Iranians are not governed by Rohani but by Ayatollah Khamenei.
Netanyahu reiterated the dangers Iran poses and insisted the world must prevent it from reaching nuclear capacity. Netanyahu said Iran is developing intercontinental ballistic missiles whose “sole purpose is to arm them with a nuclear payload. You don’t want to be in a position where this messianic, apocalyptic, radical regime that has these wild ambitions but a nice spokesman gets away with building the weapons of mass death.”
Regarding the difference between former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Rohani, Netanyahu reiterated what he said during his United Nations General Assembly speech about a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”, arguing that “a difference in style doesn’t make a difference in policy.”
Asked if Rohani’s recent gestures, such as tweeting a happy Rosh Hashana to Jews and admitting Nazis committed crimes against Jews could point towards a change in Iran’s approach, Netanyahu answered: “I look at what they do, not what they say.”
Benjamin Netanyahu has again warned that Israel will not wait “until it’s too late” to stymie Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and that scientists in the Islamic Republic could be ready to make a push towards producing a bomb within a few weeks.
Mr Netanyahu has made stopping Iran’s nuclear programme his priority since being returned to office in January. Until now, Israeli officials have maintained that its allies – by which they largely mean the United States – should present a credible military threat as well as the crippling economic sanctions that have already been imposed on Tehran.
Mr Netanyahu appeared to hint in the CBS interview that he felt that a decision on any military action against Iran may be nearing. “They’re edging up to the red line,” Mr Netanyahu said in reference to a speech he made to the United Nations last year in which he held up a cartoon picture of a bomb with a red line drawn across it, to demonstrate how close Iran is to producing a bomb. “They haven’t crossed it yet. They’re also building faster centrifuges that would enable them to jump the line, so to speak, at a much faster rate – that is, within a few weeks,” he said.
Iran denies that its nuclear programme is intent on making a nuclear weapon, rather it is designed for the production of efficient nuclear energy.
Some in the West welcomed last month’s election of Hassan Rouhani as the next president of Iran, pointing out that among the list of six candidates, he was the most moderate. At the time of his election, Dr Rouhani made conciliatory statements in relation to the US, and on Iran’s nuclear programme; a marked change from the approach adopted by his predecessor, the outgoing president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
“We’ve spoken many times, President Obama and I, about the need to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. I know that is the US policy. What is important is to convey to them, especially after the election, that that policy will not change. …And [it] should be backed up with ratcheted sanctions. You should ratchet up the sanctions and make it clear to Iran that they won’t get away with it. And if sanctions don’t work, they have to know that you’ll be prepared to take military action – that’s the only thing that will get their attention.”
Mr Netanyahu, dismissed the idea that Dr Rouhani’s election would lead to a change in Iranian nuclear policy. Mr Netanyahu said that Dr Rohani had himself referred to Mr Ahmadinejad as being “a wolf in wolf’s clothing.” Dr Rohani’s approach, though, the Israeli leader said, is to, “be a wolf in sheep’s clothing – smile and build a bomb.”