U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will be arriving in Israel on Friday to discuss the international talks on Iran’s nuclear program and Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced at the weekly cabinet meeting yesterday. Kerry’s visit to Israel will coincide with the next round of talks in Geneva between Iran and six world powers, which will resume Wednesday. Kerry will be on standby to fly to Geneva to sign an agreement with Iran if a deal is reached while he is in Israel, said Israeli government officials.
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Kerry is expected to meet with Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, the officials said, amid high levels of U.S.-Israel tension over whether to move forward with the Iran deal, which Netanyahu opposes.
Yesterday, though, the prime minister made conciliatory comments.
“John Kerry is an old friend of mine as well as a friend of Israel,” Netanyahu told the cabinet. “He is making an effort to move forward on peace between us and the Palestinians, and I will also discuss the Iranian issue with him. I would like to make it clear that there can be differences of opinion even between the best of friends – certainly on matters related to our future and our fate.”
Netanyahu said he held out hope for a better deal that would reduce the risk of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.
“It is the obligation of the Israeli government to defend the interests that are crucial to us, and that is what we are doing in the face of an agreement that is a bad deal,” he said. “I hope we will succeed this week in convincing our friends to reach a better deal. Iran is under financial pressure, and increasing and intensifying this pressure could lead to the better result of a peaceable diplomatic solution.”
Netanyahu has condemned a proposal, endorsed by Washington, to reduce sanctions on Iran if Tehran suspends parts of its nuclear work.
The prime minister said he would discuss the issue with French President François Hollande, who arrived in Israel yesterday afternoon, and with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Wednesday.
“We will discuss (Iran) at the head of the many issues on the agenda,” Netanyahu said of Hollande’s visit in public remarks at the start of a weekly cabinet meeting. “I will do the same with President Putin in my visit to Moscow on Wednesday and I will do the same with John Kerry, who is coming here on Friday.”
Report: Obama not taking PM’s calls
Meanwhile, Kuwaiti newspaper Al Jarida reported yesterday that U.S. President Barack Obama has been refusing to take phone calls from Prime Minister Netanyahu because of the tension between the two countries over how to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue.
The Prime Minister’s Office issued a flat denial, saying, “The report in Al Jarida is wrong.”
The White House also denied the reports.
Al Jarida, which has previously reported information that was later verified about a leak investigation taking place in Netanyahu’s bureau, says that on Friday, Obama refused more than once to speak to Netanyahu on the telephone and had Kerry take the call instead. The paper cited a source it says is familiar with the issue.
According to the report, which was written by a reporter in Jerusalem, U.S. Jewish leaders are trying to get the White House to decrease the tension and snag Netanyahu an invitation to meet with Obama in Washington.
The Kuwaiti paper’s exclusive reports on what’s going on behind the scenes of the Prime Minister’s Office have raised the question of whether Netanyahu’s bureau is intentionally using the paper to release information to which it doesn’t want to be directly linked.
Netanyahu and Obama last spoke on Friday, November 8, during the last round of talks in Geneva. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote Saturday that the conversation lasted at least 90 minutes.
Obama contacted Netanyahu after the prime minister expressed opposition to the agreement underway with Iran, which Netanyahu has since called a “bad deal” that means “Iran is getting everything and giving nothing.”
Later in the morning of November 8, Netanyahu met with Kerry at Ben-Gurion International Airport. The atmosphere was tense and the conversation did nothing to mitigate Netanyahu’s staunch, and publicly expressed, opposition to the deal.
The most recent round of negotiations between Iran and the international community in Geneva have been in the center of tensions between the United States and Israel, who differ over the best course to dismantle the Iranian nuclear program.
Netanyahu and his ministers believe, in stark contrast to the Americans and some of the other negotiating powers, that it’s possible to extract a much better agreement from Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, one that will totally halt uranium enrichment at all levels and shut down the centrifuges. They argue that if forced to choose between acquiring an atomic bomb and the survival of his regime – and the economic crisis puts the ayatollahs’ regime in real danger -- Khamenei would choose survival. But so far the West has succeeded in extracting very little from him.
Kerry said earlier that no agreement with Iran has been reached and that opposition to a deal was premature.