Leaving no room for compromise, Israel’s intelligence minister Yuval Steinitz made clear Jerusalem will oppose any nuclear deal with Iran that allows it to continue enrichment or that gives Tehran any kind of reward for temporary suspending its nuclear activity.
Steinitz, who led Israel’s delegation to the strategic dialogue talks held with the U.S. administration on October 23, emerged from the meetings with the impression that Israel and the United States differ on how to negotiate a deal with Iran, though he stressed that these differences are being discussed in a positive way.
“Good relations are tested when there are differences, and the fact that we are conducting such a significant dialogue indicates just how strong the relationship is,” Steinitz told reporters on October 24, hours before he met at the White House with Vice President Joe Biden.
Differences between the Obama administration and Netanyahu’s government center on two key issues:
The first is a proposal being discussed to move forward in a two-step approach which will include short-term confidence building measures and later a long-term agreement with Iran. In talks held in Geneva last week, Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif reportedly offered to suspend enrichment to 20% as a signal of Tehran’s seriousness. In return, the United States and its allies have been discussing symbolic gestures toward Iran, which could include releasing some of its assets being held by Western financial institutions.
“We oppose confidence building measures and any temporary steps,” Steinitz said. He argued that short term measures would provide Iran with the financial relief it is seeking without giving up its nuclear program.
The Israeli minister also rejected the notion that without any reward from the international community, Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani will find it difficult to continue his drive for negotiations.
“We must not give into this idea,” he said. “Rouhani needs to know he has to make a choice between saving Iran’s economy and saving its nuclear program.”
The second point of disagreement between the two countries has to do with the substance of any future deal. Iran’s proposal suggests that even after an agreement is reached the Islamic Republic will still maintain the ability to enrich uranium to a low level in order to use it for its energy and research nuclear facilities. The United States has not stated its position on this issue yet, but many experts believe it would not oppose limited enrichment under strict international supervision.
“There is no reason in the world Iran should have enrichment capability,” Steinitz said. He argued that a deal under which Iran purchases uranium from a third country, as is the case with many of the nations that hold civilian nuclear capability, should be sufficient while amply addressing Israel’s concerns. “It is a win-win solution,” he said.
Steinitz, who was accompanied to Washington by senior officials from his own ministry as well as from the foreign and defense ministry and from the IDF and the Mosad, told his American counterparts that if Iran does reach nuclear weapons capability, it would pose a risk to the world much greater than that posed by North Korea, since Iran could have in ten years an arsenal of 100-200 bombs.
Looking at the short term, Israel’s opposition could now be used by those in Congress pushing for new sanctions against Iran. The administration has been working in recent days to convince lawmakers not to move forward new legislation meant to tighten even more the sanctions on Iran. Steinitz, who met on Wednesday with members of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Middle East, repeated the tagline coined by Prime Minister Netanyahu: “The greater the pressure, the greater the chances for diplomacy to succeed.”
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, was the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.