Netanyahu, After Meeting Rice: Israel Fears 'Bad Deal' on Iran

Obama's National Security Adviser stresses that U.S. believes diplomacy best way to solve Iran nuclear issue; Netanyahu's remarks to Friends of IDF highlight difference of opinion.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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President Peres and U.S. National Securtiy Adviser Susan Rice in Jerusalem, May 7, 2014.Credit: AP
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

The meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and visiting U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice in Jerusalem on Wednesday demonstrates the extent of Israel's difference of opinion with the Obama administration over the Iranian nuclear issue.

Rice stressed during the meeting that the U.S. administration believes diplomacy is the best way to stop Iran’s nuclear program.

The Prime Minister's Bureau did not release details of Netanyahu's own comments to Rice, but an hour after the meeting sent out quotes of the prime minister's remarks on the matter in a meeting with members of Friends of the IDF – U.S. , in which he declared Israel's concern that a "bad deal" in the making.

The bureau's statement, released in Hebrew, quotes emphasizing to the audience Israel's stance that Iran must not be allowed to create an atomic weapon. The Islamic Republic currently has thousands of centrifuges and thousands of kilograms of enriched uranium, with which a bomb could be created.

"A bad deal will enable them to preserve this capability," Netanyahu said, according to the Hebrew statement. "It would be better not to reach an agreement at all than to reach a bad agreement," the bureau quoted him as saying.

Rice, who is on her first visit to Israel since assuming her White House job, met with Netanyahu for about two hours in Jerusalem, after which she spent another hour with President Shimon Peres. She is here together with several other senior American defense and intelligence officials to hold strategic consultations with Israel, mainly on the Iranian nuclear issue. On the Israeli side, the talks will be led by Rice’s counterpart, National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen, backed by senior officials from the foreign and defense ministries, the Israel Defense Forces, the Mossad and the Atomic Energy Commission.

Rice arrived here a few days before Iran and the six powers are due to begin their fourth round of talks over a nuclear agreement in Vienna. Wendy Sherman, who heads the American delegation to those talks, is one of the officials who accompanied her to Israel. On Tuesday, before taking off for Israel, the two women met in Washington with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who is leading the nuclear talks on behalf of the six powers – America, Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia.

The meeting with Ashton was in preparation for the upcoming talks with Iran, at which the sides are expected to start drafting a permanent agreement on the nuclear issue. U.S. President Barack Obama also attended part of that meeting, and a subsequent statement put out by the White House said the president “underscored his support for the ongoing negotiations, and the importance of building on the progress of the Joint Plan of Action to develop the type of comprehensive solution that can give the international community confidence that Iran is meeting its obligations.”

On Wednesday, at her meeting with Netanyahu, Rice delivered the same message, stressing that any agreement must assure “the international community that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively peaceful,” a White House statement said.

“She reiterated that the United States will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon, and that diplomacy is the best way to resolve the international community’s concerns peacefully,” the statement added.

Rice also discussed the impasse in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process with Netanyahu, noting “that while we have come to a pause in the parties’ talks, the United States remains convinced that lasting peace can only be secured through direct negotiations that lead to two viable, independent states living side-by-side in peace and security,” the statement said.

Other topics discussed at the meeting included the crisis in Ukraine and the civil war in Syria. Washington is unhappy with the neutral stance Israel has adopted on the Ukrainian crisis and the fact that Israel didn’t side with America in a recent vote on the matter in the UN General Assembly. A few weeks ago, when Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was visiting Washington, Rice had a harsh conversation with him on this subject.

At her subsequent meeting with Peres, the president told Rice that the talks between Iran and the six powers are nearing the moment of decision and stressed that the Iranians should be judged solely by their actions. “We need to examine the Iranians’ seriousness – whether they are offering only words, or taking real actions,” Peres said.