Israel Fears World Powers' 'Creative Ideas' Won't Dismantle Iran's Nuclear Program

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Kerry, Ashton, and Zarif in Vienna, Austria, on October 15, 2014.Credit: AFP

The latest round of negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 powers last week has increased concern among senior Israeli officials that the talks will end on November 24th with an agreement that will not account for most of Israel’s demands and fears.

Such fears were voiced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who on Sunday  expressed Israeli dissatisfaction with the direction in which the Vienna talks were going.

"Today," said Netanyahu, we are facing the danger of an agreement by the powers that will leave Iran a nuclear threshold state, with thousands of centrifuges through which it can produce a nuclear bomb in a short period of time.”

“This is a threat to the entire world, and first and foremost to us. This threat is far more serious than that posed by the Islamic State.”

Meanwhile, senior Iranian officials announced Sunday that they had made progress on some of the items in the nuclear negotiations. They admitted, however, that there was no agreement or breakthrough on the primary issues.

Abbas Araqchi, the chief Iranian negotiator, confirmed that no agreements had been reached on several key issues, and refused to address a claim aired by the Russian delegate to the talks who stated that ninety percent of the issues at hand had been dealt with.

At this point, Araqchi said, there was no readiness on the part of either the Iranians or the six powers to extend the negotiating period beyond November 24. It might be possible, he stated, to reach a deal by then, but “We must take into account that the time left will not be enough to reach a comprehensive agreement.”

A trilateral meeting was held last Wednesday between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who is conducting the negotiations on behalf of the six powers – the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain, and Germany. When the seven-hour meeting ended, both sides said that despite the many disputes remaining over core issues, there had been progress.

The following day, negotiations between the Iranian negotiating team and representatives of the six powers continued in Vienna. At the end of the day, the American delegates said there had been progress, and Ashton’s spokesman Michael Mann said the nuclear talks had entered a critical stage.

The talks will continue at the expert level on Wednesday and Thursday, and in two weeks Kerry, Ashton and Zarif are expected to meet again.

A senior Israeli official said Sunday that although the Iranian and P5+1 powers’ positions were getting closer, the gaps remained great. The Israeli concerns are growing, he said, because it is felt that in an effort to make progress and avoid failure, the powers’ delegates are raising “creative solutions” that are not expected to reduce the number of uranium-enriching centrifuges to be left in Iranian hands.

Before the latest round of talks, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei established a series of red lines for his negotiating team. The list included a demand that Iranian nuclear research be allowed to continue, preserving the achievements of the Iranian nuclear program, and insisting on the right to enrich uranium on Iranian soil.

“The powers are aware of these red lines and are simply trying to play within them and find creative solutions that won’t cross them,” the senior Israeli official said.

The senior official added that during the last few months of talks the powers’ position had eroded with regard to the number of centrifuges that Iran would be allowed to keep. He noted that while at first there was talk of a symbolic 500 centrifuges, the number slowly climbed to 2,000 and now there are proposals that say 5,000.

In contrast, he said, Iran has not softened its position on the centrifuges at all, demanding it be allowed to retain all 9,000 currently operating centrifuges, as well as the 10,000 inactive centrifuges it possesses.

Israel is in regular contact with the U.S. administration, as well as with the governments of France, Britain, and Germany. Representatives of these countries updated their Israeli counterparts regarding the results of the last round of talks.

In the coming weeks, as the deadline gets closer, Israel will intensify its persuasion and lobbying efforts in Washington and the European capitals. On Thursday, Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, who is responsible for the Iranian issue on behalf of the prime minister, will arrive in London to meet British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond.

“It’s not certain that there will be an agreement by November 24, and there’s a good chance that in the end the talks will be extended by a few months to avoid their collapse,” the senior official said, adding that if a deal is reached at this stage, “it means that the powers have yielded to Iranian demands.”

In the end, the official said, “The agreement will range from a bad agreement to a very bad agreement. Nevertheless, we feel that we are succeeding at influencing the powers’ positions. We don’t expect to get everything we want, but we hope for limited achievements that will turn the agreement into the least bad possible.”

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