U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said on Monday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's threats to strike Iran's nuclear sites – coupled with pressure from economic sanctions – pushed the Islamic Republic to engage seriously in talks with the West.
"It’s true that sanctions - not just U.S. sanctions but UN sanctions, multilateral sanctions - have done tremendous economic damage,” Hagel said in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg published in the Bloomberg news website. "I think that Iran is responding to the constant pressure from Israel, knowing that Israel believes them to be an existential threat. I think all of this, combined, probably brought the Iranians to where we are today.”
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Hagel said he did not think Netanyahu is trying to derail the current round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. "I think Prime Minister Netanyahu is legitimately concerned, as any prime minister of Israel has been, about the future security needs of their country," he said.
Hagel's comments mirror the position outlined on Sunday by Netanyahu's outgoing National Security Adviser Ya’akov Amidror.
According to sources who were briefed on Amidror's presentation, the adviser said that maintaining an Israeli military threat and tough sanctions are crucial to stopping Iran from getting nuclear weapons.
He asserted that there has been a change in Iran's willingness to negotiate with the West, but this change was due primarily to the pressure imposed by the international sanctions. Still, the Iranians has not changed their policy on enriching uranium, he said.
“This is exactly why it’s important to maintain sanctions,” said Amidror. “Only maintaining the sanctions along with a credible threat of a strike will persuade Iran to make progress in negotiations with the West.”
Israel must set a high bar with regard to any arrangement between Iran and the West and ignore international criticism, he said. He stressed that if it is “clear to the world that we have a real ability to carry out a military operation in Iran,” the international community will not be able to ignore Israel’s demands.
Meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rohani has expressed pessimism over the outcome of talks with the West, the official Iranian news agency IRNA reported on Monday. "The government is not optimistic about the Westerners and the current negotiations," he said. Similar comments were made on Sunday by Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who said he was not optimistic about nuclear talks, but added that they will not damage Iran.