Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Friday morning that Israel would oppose any deal between Iran and Western powers that links the stopping of Iran’s nuclear program with cooperation in the fight against the Islamic State group.
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Lieberman's statements were the first Israeli response to Thursday’s report in the Wall Street Journal about a secret letter sent by U.S. President Barack Obama to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, behind Israel’s back.
“We are not in the place of giving any advice to the President of the U.S., but we have a disagreement on this issue,” Lieberman said during a press conference with Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s new high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, who is visiting Israel for the first time since she took office.
“To create such a linkage between the Iranian nuclear program and the fight against ISIS — we are against this approach," he said, using one of the acronyms for the radical Islamist group. "From our point of view, it’s a mistake... Iran is unacceptable for any coalition of the moderate world against ISIS. They are not a partner for any dialogue in the Middle East.”
According to the report in the Wall Street Journal, which was confirmed by other reports in the American media, Obama sent a secret letter in mid-October to Khamenei stating that any cooperation between the U.S. and Iran in the fight against Islamic State, depended upon reaching an agreement on its nuclear program with the six superpowers — the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany — by the November 24 deadline.
The report said Obama wrote in the letter that the U.S. and Iran have a common interest in fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and in Syria. The Wall Street Journal’s report stated further that the White House had not told Israel or its Gulf State allies, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, about the letter.
Mogherini, who arrived in Israel on Thursday night, met on Friday morning with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. She will also be meeting with President Reuven Rivlin, opposition leader Isaac Herzog, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Finance Minister Yair Lapid. Later on, she will be traveling to Ramallah for a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and she will also visit Gaza.
During the press conference with Lieberman, Mogherini called for the cessation of construction in the West Bank settlements, which she called an “obstacle,” and stressed that the escalation of violence in Jerusalem must be stopped.
"The risk of growing tensions in Jerusalem is if we don't move forward on the political track we will move back to violence," she said. However, Mogherini expressed an understanding to the complicated security situation in Israel and accepted Lieberman’s statements about the need to move forward with peace agreements with the moderate Arab states
"It was never so dangerous for Israel to live in the region but there are also opportunities from regional players," Mogherini said. “There is a need for a regional approach in the peace process. The EU is ready to work in this direction.”
Lieberman also called for calm in Jerusalem and expressed Israel’s commitment to preserve the status quo on the Temple Mount. He added that a strategic breakthrough with the Palestinian Authority would become possible only as part of a region-wide agreement, including with Arab countries.
At her meeting with the prime minister, Netanyahu addressed the issue of settlement construction and Jerusalem.
"Jerusalem is a very sensitive topic and I refer to it with sensitivity. But this is our capital," he said, adding, "Jerusalem is not a settlement. The neighborhoods that Jews live and that we build in have been standing for nearly 50 years, in the hands of all Israeli governments. Everyone knows that in any peace deal they will remain part of Israel."
Netanyahu said he rejects "the outlandish claim" that settlement construction is the root of the continuing conflict. "The subject is not territory but that the very fact of our existence and the refusal to recognize Israel with any border," he said.