This week’s nuclear deal between Iran and three European countries has triggered a wave of criticism from Israeli and Jewish communal officials, who warn that the pact will fail to halt Tehran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.
Iran’s agreement with France, Germany and England requires Tehran to immediately freeze its uranium enrichment activities pending negotiations on a final accord. A final deal would reward Iran with political and economic benefits if Tehran provides verifiable guarantees that its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes.
This week’s deal all but sinks American and Israeli hopes of quickly getting the United Nations Security Council to slap sanctions on Iran for allegedly violating its obligations under the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. The Bush administration, which has relied on European diplomacy to slow Tehran’s efforts, voiced cautious support for the agreement. Israel and Jewish organizations, however, say that the interim deal simply will allow Iran to buy time.
Jerusalem is “obviously very disappointed” with the deal, Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom told reporters following his Monday meeting in Washington with outgoing Secretary of State Colin Powell.
On Wednesday, an Iranian opposition group announced that Tehran was covertly enriching uranium at a military site. Given that the group’s previous disclosures of Iranian nuclear activities have been confirmed, the claim seemed certain to bolster Israeli concerns.
“It is clear to us that they are trying to develop nuclear weapons and that it should be prevented,” he said. “The Europeans are all the time talking about carrot and stick, but we see only the carrot, not the stick.”
Shalom argued that Iran had purposely timed the latest deal to head off discussion of its nuclear program at the November 25 meeting of the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran is promising to suspend its uranium enrichment program starting November 22, three days before the atomic agency’s board of governors was expected to debate the Iranian nuclear dossier and the possibility of sending the matter to the Security Council.
“I told [Powell] that each time before a vote [the Iranians] do something,” Shalom said. “This time they announced the suspension of enriching uranium. But we demand not suspension but full cessation.”
While officially pushing for a tougher stance, the Bush administration has quietly supported the negotiations between the Europeans and Iran. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said at a daily briefing Tuesday that the pact was a useful step but needed to be implemented and verified.
Last year, Iran and the so-called “Euro-3” reached a similar agreement. But Tehran reneged after several months, fueling convictions in Israel and in hawkish American circles that Iran is in fact determined to acquire nuclear weapons.
While this week’s deal is more sophisticated and leaves less room for interpretation, Israel and its supporters say that for Iran, the new pact is simply a delaying tactic. Tehran is just “buying time,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, an umbrella group of 52 national organizations generally viewed as the community’s consensus voice on Middle East affairs.
Hoenlein said that the deal failed to provide a mechanism for the verification and dismantling of Iran’s nuclear weapons production infrastructure. He also complained about possible rewards that the Europeans are prepared to bestow on Iran, pointing to news reports suggesting that Europe offered Iran a role in addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The text of the interim agreement announced this week did not provide any details regarding the package of rewards Iran would get in return for giving up its nuclear program.
The negotiations over a comprehensive agreement are expected to start next month.
Jewish organizational officials also complained that the interim agreement does not contain long-term guarantees that Iran would not seek to master the technical means to manufacture nuclear weapons. Hoenlein said that Iran could reach that stage within six months to a year, an estimate confirmed by an Israel official on condition of anonymity.
One Jewish communal leader who has been in touch with Bush administration officials said that “the Americans are very unhappy with the deal.” The communal leader predicted that American officials would push for a final pact requiring the complete suspension of nuclear activity before May or June 2005, when Iran fully develops the ability to produce nuclear weapons.
For now, Jewish organizations are calling for heightened vigilance in holding Iran to its commitments.
“Given Iran’s previous history of deception of the IAEA, we hope that this time, it is different,” said Andrew Schwartz, a spokesman of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobbying powerhouse that has aggressively been warning lawmakers on Capitol Hill about Tehran’s nuclear activities. “This agreement must be carefully monitored by the U.S. and the [U.N.’s atomic agency] in order to ensure Iranian compliance.”
Pooya Dayanim, president of the Iranian Jewish Public Affairs Committee, a Los Angeles-based group with close ties to the Bush administration and opposition forces in Iran, noted that Iranian officials were already stressing that the suspension of its nuclear activities was temporary.
“My advice to the U.S. and other wise nations,” Dayanim said, “is to assume the worst and draft their contingency plans accordingly.”
— Ori Nir contributed to this report from Washington.