The joint press conference held by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond at the opening of their meeting in Jerusalem on Thursday afternoon turned into a confrontation in front of the cameras regarding the nuclear deal between Iran and the world powers.
While Netanyahu attacked the powers and asserted that they made a bad deal with Iran, Hammond countered that Britain is not naive regarding Iran but believes that the deal attained the most important goal of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
Hammond arrived at the meeting with Netanyahu a day after sharply criticizing the Israeli prime minister in parliament.
“The question you have to ask yourself is what kind of a deal would have been welcomed in Tel Aviv. The answer of course is that Israel doesn’t want any deal with Iran,” Hammond said at the House of Commons on Wednesday.
“Israel wants a permanent state of standoff, and I don’t believe that’s in the interests of the region. I don’t believe it’s in our interest,” Hammond said.
"The deal agreed to in Vienna, I regret to say, paves this terrorist regime's path to the bomb," said Netanyahu. The alternative to this bad deal is not war. The alternative is a better deal that would roll back Iran's military nuclear program and tie the easing of restrictions on Iran's nuclear program to changes in Iran's behavior."
In his speech, he took a swipe at Hammond for saying in parliament that the Israeli government sits in Tel Aviv and not Jerusalem.
"That's the kind of deal that would be welcomed in Tel Aviv and here in Israel's capital, Jerusalem," he said.
Netanyahu added: "Unfortunately, the current deal allows Iran to avoid making that choice between a path to the bomb and sanctions relief. That's not a triumph for diplomacy, but a failure of diplomacy."
Netanyahu protested what Hammond had said in parliament, saying, "Israelis know better than anyone the cost of permanent conflict with Iran. And it is wrong to suggest that Israel wants such an outcome."
Rather, said Netanyahu, "We seek a genuine and effective diplomatic solution. But Israelis also know exactly what would happen if we ever let our guard down. The result of that would be truly permanent."
Hammond, who listened to Netanyahu for several minutes, replied that he understood how important the Iranian issue was to Israel, but made it clear that after a decade of tough negotiations a deal was reached that promises that Iran will not obtain nuclear weapons.
"The IAEA will have the access and the intrusive monitoring it needs to verify the adherence to the restrictions on Iran's nuclear program, giving the international community confidence that the program will be exclusively peaceful," he said. "We wouldn’t have agreed to the deal unless we were sure that it had robust measures in place to deliver effective oversight on Iran's nuclear program."
The foreign secretary remarked that he is aware that Netanyahu fundamentally disagrees with this approach, but stressed that beyond hindering Iran's capability to develop a nuclear weapon, the deal also allows Iran to return to the embrace of the international community.
"This is the best and maybe to only way to build the trust that will allow a dialogue on the many other issues we have in Iran," he said.
Hammond rejected Netanyahu's assertion that the international community is about to remove sanctions against Iran.
"You said we will lift the sanctions today. We will not lift the sanctions today," he stressed. "All of the sanctions relief is conditioned upon Iran having first met the requirements on it to reduce stockpile to dismantle centrifuges and export stocks of enriched uranium. We have no illusions about Iran's role in the region… But an isolated Iran dominated by hardliners will not change its behavior in the region."
When Hammond finished his statement, the two were supposed to move to a closed discussion in the prime minister's office, but Netanyahu decided to respond to Hammond on the spot. He recalled how four days before the announcement of the deal there were demonstrations in Tehran in which the masses were calling for the destruction of Israel.
"The question I have is would it not make sense for the world powers to condemn powerfully this expression to annihilate the Jewish state and to demand Iran cease such genocidal calls and actions," he said.
Hammond could not restrain himself and spoke again.
"This deal was about the nuclear file and the sanctions are around Iran's illegal nuclear activities. We will judge Iran not according to the chants of the crowds on the streets of Tehran but by the actions of its government and its agents in the region," he said. "We are not naive. We understand that our many disputes with Iran will remain. We want to work with you to prevent Iranian destabilization in the region."
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