U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro vowed that President Obama would not let Iran obtain nuclear weapons and that the United States would not sign on to a “bad deal.”JERUSALEM — The United States vowed Monday it would not cave to Iran in negotiations over the Islamic republic’s nuclear program despite charges from Israel and France that negotiators were proposing to let Iran maintain its nuclear capacity.
U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro vowed Monday that President Obama would not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons and that the United States would not sign on to a “bad deal” at negotiations with Iran tipped to restart later this month.
Speaking at the Jewish Federations of North American General Assembly in Jerusalem, Shapiro drove home his point by repeating it in Hebrew, according to the Jerusalem Post.
He said that the U.S. would not “squander” the leverage of Western economic sanctions on Iran, which wants those sanctions removed. Shapiro said that no deal on Iran’s atomic program would be better than a bad deal.
His comments came as the U.N.’s nuclear chief reached a deal Monday to allow expanded monitoring of Iran’s nuclear sites, including at a planned reactor, but not an agreement to dismantle its ability to make material for nuclear weapons as the U.S. Security Council has demanded.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday again defended U.S. efforts with Iran, saying that the major powers were unified on an Iran nuclear deal during weekend talks in Geneva but the Iranians did not accept it.
Speaking to reporters in Abu Dhabi, Kerry lashed out at opponents to the proposal. Among them are Israeli Prime MInister Benjamin Netanyahu, who told Kerry on Friday that the proposed deal gave Iran all it wants on sanctions and did nothing to end Iran’s ability to make a nuclear bomb.
“The time to oppose it is when you see what it is, not to oppose the effort to find out what is possible,” Kerry said. “We are confident that what we are doing can actually protect Israel more effectively and provide greater security.”
Kerry’s statement appeared to contradict the stance of French foreign minister Laurent Fabius, who told France Inter radio that Paris would not accept what he called a “sucker’s deal.” France announced over the weekend that it did not support the proposal backed by the United States because it did not adequately address security concerns of Iran’s neighbor
That was the reason given by Netanyahu for his opposition to the proposal. Not waiting for the proposal to be announced by Kerry as a done deal, Netanyahu, apparently aware of the contours of the proposal, came out publicly to say it would imperil its very existence because it did not guarantee the end of Iran’s nuclear bomb capabilities.
Analysts say it was unusual for the allies to be so public with their complaints about one another and it shows relations with Israel have never been more frayed in recent memory.
“If there were a synoptic map for diplomatic storms, the National Weather Service would be putting out a hurricane warning right now,” said Haaretz diplomatic correspondent Chemi Shalev. “And given that the turbulence is being caused by an issue long deemed to be critical to Israel’s very existence, we may actually be facing a rare Category 5 flare-up, a ‘superstorm’ of U.S.-Israeli relations.”
Aaron David Miller, a former U.S. peace negotiator who has advised Democratic and Republican secretaries of State, said the rift may cause problems for the United States on multiple fronts, including a risk of dragging the United States into war with Iran.
“How this will play out is not clear,” Miller said. “I find it almost unimaginable this administration would conclude even an interim agreement with (Iranian President Hassan) Rouhani that left Israel angry and aggrieved and the relationship in even worse shape.”
Miller said Israeli frustration with the United States may have been greater at points in the past but he’d never seen Israeli ire expressed as publicly as has been done in recent days by Netanyahu. Headlines in the Israeli press seem to agree.
The United States has been pushing for a deal in talks in Geneva to end a standoff between Iran and the West over a nuclear program that the U.S. suspects is aimed at making an atomic bomb, a possibility that Israel considers a threat to its existence.
The Iranian question is just the latest issue to severely fray relations between Israel and the United States in recent months, along with the U.S. decision to tackle Syria’s chemical weapons with diplomacy, and Obama’s emphasis on the Israeli-Palestinian standoff as being the major problem facing the Middle East.
Israel complains that an increasingly radicalized Syria, the spread of Islamist ideology in Egypt and elsewhere, and a nuclear bomb in the hands of what Netanyahu has called “Islamofascist fanatics” in Iran are the real problems for the world in the Middle East.
Jonathan Rynhold, a senior researcher at Bar Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, said the “crisis of trust” isn’t just between Israel and the U.S. Most Middle East countries, he said, believe that a nuclear-armed Iran “would undermine the balance of power that has served everyone so well over the years.”
If Iran becomes “a nuclear threshold” state, “Saudi Arabia will quickly obtain nuclear weapons from Pakistan,” which reportedly developed its own nuclear weapons with help from the Saudis, Rynhold said.
“Egypt is already looking to Russia to supply it with conventional weapons and will, no doubt, seek to obtain nuclear capability, as will Turkey.”
The breakdown over Iran came amid the extraordinary public barbs between the two longtime allies.
After meeting with Netanyahu on Friday, Kerry also told Israel’s Channel 2 TV that Israel faced possible international isolation and violence with the Palestinians if his attempt to broker a peace deal for a Palestinian state failed.
An agitated Netanyahu lashed back that “no amount of pressure” would make Israel compromise on its basic security and national interests. He said the world had ignored Palestinian incitement and a refusal to accept Israel as a Jewish state, and that the West has acquiesced half-hearted Palestinian attempts to fight violence.
“It’s time that the international community, certainly the serious members of the international community, understand this is a two-way street, because peace is not a one-way street and it won’t be,” he said.
On Sunday it continued, with Netanyahu disclosing to his Cabinet he told Kerry in private that Israel would not wait to see what deal emerged with Iran and would continue to lobby European leaders to stop it unless it ended Iran’s program.
His stance had already prompted a personal call from Obama on Friday, and a high-ranking delegation of U.S. officials led by Wendy Sherman, U.S. undersecretary for political affairs arrived in Israel, on Sunday to talk to Netanyahu on the negotiations, according to Israel’s Haaretz newspaper.
Israel says it’s mystified by the foreign policy of the United States.
Netanyahu on Sunday said he was telling Western leaders that the proposed deal was dangerous for the world and the USA, not just Israel. He insisted to CBS’ Face the Nation that the purpose of the Geneva negotiations is to get Iran to bend to the will of the U.N. Security Council demand that it remove the technology and material used for making a possible bomb.
“I’m expressing not only the concerns of Israel but the concerns of many in the region,” he said. “I asked the leaders, what is the rush?”
Naftali Bennett, a member of Netanyahu’s security Cabinet, said Sunday that the way forward is to not lessen economic sanctions on Iran as the U.S-backed proposal would do, but to strengthen them. He suggested the Obama administration was backing off its original stand just so Iran will sign on to any agreement, and he praised other nations for opposing it.
“The deal needs to be the original deal which dismantles Iran’s entire war machine,” he told Fox News. “Fortunately, France and other countries stopped this train.”
Netanyahu said he was actively lobbying leaders of Russia, France, Britain and Germany not reach a hasty deal, as well as the United States.
Iran state TV lashed out at opponents, describing France as being Israel’s “representative” at the talks. Reuters reported Sunday that a Twitter account believed run by the office of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said: “French officials have been openly hostile towards the Iranian nation over the past few years; this is an imprudent and inept move.”
The sticking points, say European negotiators such as France, is whether to demand a shutdown of a reactor that could produce weapons-grade nuclear fuel, what to do about Iran’s stockpile of higher-enriched uranium, and how much relief from economic sanctions to give to Tehran before it does anything to its program.
Israel has made it clear that the world will only be safe if the West insists that Iran eradicate, not stall, its ability to develop nuclear weapons.
“We need to keep up the pressure on Iran to avoid a physical attack on Iran,” Bennett said, referring to a possible military strike to stop Iran’s nuclear program. “Now is the time to prevent a nuclear 9/11.”
Former U.S. negotiator Miller agrees that the rift between the United States and Israel may have serious consequences, and soon. The frayed relationship makes it harder to gain Israeli backing for a final deal with Iran and to prevent a unilateral Israeli military strike.
Such a strike, with or without Obama’s approval, would hike oil prices and threaten the U.S. economy, Miller said. And with the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet based in the Persian Gulf, it could cause the USA to be “dragged in and required to respond” to an Iranian counterattack, he said.
Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., warned that the president’s Israel policies – allowing Iran to dominate in Syria, insisting on a Palestinian state while the region is in turmoil, and offering Iran a deal that Israel clearly opposes – shows Obama and Kerry to be unsympathetic to Israeli security needs.
Iran’s nuclear capability “is truly an existential threat to Israel,” and Obama “has ignored Israel’s realities,” Franks said.
Dorell reported from Washington