Politics

November 25, 2013

Israel, others call Iran deal historic error

Critics are concerned that the U.S. accord freezes uranium enrichment but does not reduce nuclear capacity.

William Booth and Scott Wilson
The Washington Post

JERUSALEM — The signing of a short-term nuclear accord between Iran and six world powers Sunday left ardent critics of the Islamic republic – most vocally the Israeli government and many U.S. lawmakers – deeply worried that the Obama administration and its partners were making a historic mistake.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

The Associated Press

“Today the world has become a much more dangerous place because the most dangerous regime in the world has taken a significant step toward attaining the most dangerous weapon in the world,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

He vowed to spend the six months covered by the interim agreement pushing the White House and other allies for a long-term deal that not only curbs Iran’s current nuclear program but also dismantles the infrastructure that could allow it to make a nuclear device. In Congress, many Republicans and some influential Democrats echoed Israeli concerns that the deal freezes Iran’s uranium enrichment but does not reduce its capacity. Tehran says the enrichment is for energy, not weapons production, but many U.S. lawmakers and critics in the international community are skeptical of that claim.

“In my view, this agreement did not proportionately reduce Iran’s nuclear program,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said in a statement. “Given Iran’s history of duplicity,” he added, enforcement of the deal “will demand ongoing, on-the-ground verification.”

Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states, which had allied themselves with Israel’s position in opposing the proposed deal, were muted in their reactions Sunday.

The ruling family in Riyadh – already at odds with the Obama administration over Syria policy and other issues – had no official comment. The United Arab Emirates’ state news agency said its government “hopes this would represent a step towards a permanent agreement that preserves the stability of the region and shields it from tension and the danger of nuclear proliferation.”

Most Israeli politicians, including moderates and those on the political left, say a final deal to lift economic sanctions must require Iran to dismantle its centrifuges, remove its enriched uranium and decommission its heavy water reactor in Arak, among other things. While Israel is clearly unhappy with the interim deal, some Israeli politicians emphasized Sunday that their country must accept it as reality, and work to repair the diplomatic fissures that have erupted between Israel and its allies in order to retain influence going forward.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid, a centrist and the second-most powerful politician in Netanyahu’s coalition government, told Israeli Army Radio he was worried not only about what he agreed was a “bad deal,” but “also because we have lost the ability to make the world listen.”

“Our job is to be the ones to warn,” Lapid said. “We need to make the Americans listen to us like they have listened in the past.”

Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog said Netanyahu “must do everything in order to fix the damage that was caused from the public clash with the U.S., and return to an intimate relationship with President Obama and other world leaders.”

Obama has argued that diplomacy must be tried before a military strike is considered. The president spoke by telephone with Netanyahu on Sunday, reiterating that the United States shares Israel’s goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and enlisting Netanyahu’s cooperation as negotiations continue.

At the heart of the concerns about the interim agreement is a belief that the deal has, in effect, frozen in place an advanced uranium-enrichment regimen and allowed a plutonium production reactor to remain on standby, in return for the economic relief that the Iranian government is urgently seeking.

“It does not seem proportional,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., the Senate’s third-ranking Democrat. “Iran simply freezes its nuclear capabilities, while we reduce the sanctions. ... A fairer agreement would have coupled a reduction in sanctions with a proportionate reduction in Iranian nuclear capability.”

(Continued on page 2)

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