An on-camera, testy exchange between British Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu laid bare on Thursday tensions over the nuclear deal between foreign powers and Iran.
A day after telling Britain’s parliament that Israel would not have been satisfied with any accord with Iran, Hammond met with Netanyahu to try and calm fears over Tuesday’s landmark deal, meant to curb Tehran’s nuclear program.
But their statements to reporters before their meeting began strayed from the routine, short diplomatic remarks to a full-on 20-minute face-off, in which both Netanyahu and Hammond appeared at times irate - and by the end amused.
Netanyahu reiterated his objections to the deal, saying it would allow Tehran eventually to obtain nuclear weapons whether by abiding by the agreement or “by cheating and overcoming a porous inspection mechanism.”
Sanction relief, he said, would fund Iranian aggression in the region. Israel is alarmed about Tehran backing its enemies Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria and has accused Tehran in the past of being behind attacks on Israeli and Jewish targets abroad, allegations Iran has denied.
Hammond in his statement gave a sharp retort. “You said we will lift the sanctions today. We will not lift any sanctions today,” he told Netanyahu, adding oversight would be effective.
“We have no illusions about Iran’s role in the region, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t act to tackle the threat of nuclear proliferation,” Hammond added and went on to describe his country’s commitment to Israel’s security as “unshakeable,” stressing his government’s fight against antisemitism.
But rather than end the photo-opportunity as scheduled Netanyahu chose to reply and said a campaign against antisemitism should have included condemnation of calls by Iran to “annihilate the Jewish state.”
Days before the agreement was signed, crowds rallied in Tehran and called ‘Death to Israel,’ Netanyahu said. “There is no requirement for any change of behavior on the part of Iran which is what makes this deal so fundamentally flawed.”
Hammond too chose to continue the debate. “We have always been clear that this deal was about the nuclear file.”
“We will judge Iran not by the chants of the crowds on the streets of Tehran, but by the actions of its government and their agents around the region, and we are not naive about this.”—Reuters