Why does a top Israeli official want to keep the Iran deal?

 

 


Final round of negotiations on a nuclear deal with Iran continue in Vienna November 21, 2014. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Israel’s preference is not that the Iranian nuclear deal should be nixed but that it should be extended indefinitely, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s close ally, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, revealed Monday in an interview with The Jerusalem Post at his office in the capital.

Steinitz, who will be speaking at the April 29 Jerusalem Post Conference in New York, explained Israel’s policies on Iran as the United States and European Union negotiate the fate of the 2015 landmark international nuclear deal.

“The Iran deal is bad for us and the world for many reasons, especially its 10-year limit, which leaves only seven years left,” Steinitz said.

“Therefore, it must be fixed and extended to an unlimited agreement or at least one that can last decades, and increased inspections must be added to prevent Iran cheating.”

Asked about the possibility that US President Donald Trump could decide to pull out of the deal, Steinitz said: “I would prefer a fixed version of the agreement, with changes in the length of the agreement and its surveillance.”

Steinitz was among the first to warn that the Iran deal, known as The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, would persuade Arab countries to enrich in uranium. He said Saudi threats to start a nuclear program proved his warning that the deal would enhance instead of limiting proliferation.

Asked about concerns that Trump canceling the deal would lead to Iran running to nuclearization, Steinitz said the possibility of that is low because the Iranians know such steps could lead to a conflict with the US and harsher sanctions.

Steinitz said the international community should no longer tolerate issues that are not in the deal, such as Iran’s aggressive takeover of countries in the region and its support for terrorism. He said those issues must be expressed in international decisions and lead to more pressure on Iran.

To that end, Channel 10 News reported on Monday night that the US and top EU countries were closer than ever to an agreement on new sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missile program, its regional aggression and even on increased inspections, but not on the agreement’s controversial “sunset clauses.”

Reuters reported from Brussels that France urged the EU on Monday to consider new sanctions on Iran over its involvement in Syria’s civil war and its ballistic missile program, as Paris tries to persuade Washington to preserve the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran.

Trump has given the European signatories a May 12 deadline to “fix the terrible flaws” of the deal, which was agreed upon by former US president Barack Obama, or he will refuse to extend sanctions relief on Iran.

In response, the three European signatories – France, Britain and Germany – have proposed new EU sanctions targeting Iranians who support Syria’s government in that country’s civil war and Tehran’s ballistic missile program, according to a confidential document seen by Reuters.

“We are determined to ensure that the Vienna accord is respected,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters on arrival for talks with his EU counterparts, referring to the city where the 2015 deal was signed.

“But we must not exclude [from consideration] Iran’s responsibility in the proliferation of ballistic missiles and in its very questionable role in the Near and Middle East,” he said. “That must also be discussed to reach a common position.”

The confidential document cites “transfers of Iranian missiles and missile technology” to Syria and allies of Tehran, such as Houthi rebels in Yemen and Lebanon’s Shi’ite Hezbollah.

Britain, France and Germany raised the sanctions issue with fellow EU foreign ministers on Monday, who discussed what strategy to present to Trump. But with time still to run until May, sanctions did not dominate the debate, diplomats said.

Iran’s foreign ministry criticized Le Drian’s comments, saying there could be no negotiation over what Iran says are purely defensive weapons.

“We were hopeful that after his recent visit to Tehran and negotiations with Iranian officials, he would understand the realities of the Islamic Republic’s defense policies,” Fars news agency quoted Iranian spokesman Bahram Qasemi as saying.

Iranian Foreign Minister Muhammad Javad Zarif on Twitter accused the West of “sheer hypocrisy” in selling large quantities of weapons to countries in the region while “whining about Iran’s defensive missiles.”

Reuters contributed to this report.

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