The deep divide between the Obama administration and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on the Iranian nuclear issue resurfaced during this week’s two-day (May 7-8) Jerusalem talks held by the visiting US National Security Advisor Susan Rice, who was joined by Wendy Sherman, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and head of the US delegation to the nuclear talks.
Rice reiterated President Barack Obama’s contention that Iran and the P5+1 countries must reach a deal by the year’s end, before internal political conditions in Iran alter the landscape. The US urges Israel to recognize that Iran is already irreversibly a nuclear threshold state, and so it should be permitted to maintain a civilian nuclear program. This includes uranium enrichment and the construction of new nuclear reactors, with the proviso that Tehran commits not to turn its capabilities to military uses.
The Obama administration is prepared to pledge that every intelligence-gathering method at its disposal will be used to monitor Iran’s nuclear program and ensure that the threshold is not crossed. It promises Israel, as Rice repeated in her Wednesday conversation with Netanyahu, that Obama will not allow Iran to arm itself with nuclear weapons.
But DEBKAfile’s sources in Jerusalem report that Netanyahu rejected the American position, arguing that Israel cannot leave its security in the hands of intelligence agencies whose forecasts and evaluations of the past years have often proved inaccurate.
Directly after Netanyahu and Rice met on Wednesday, a senior Israeli official said Israel continues to insist that Iran should not have the right to enrich uranium. The official, who spoke with unusual frankness, said that the Obama administration’s eagerness to seal the deal has more do with US domestic political concerns than Tehran.
“We would be happy to see July 20 pass without a deal,” the official said, referencing the target date set for a comprehensive agreement. He added that there was worry in Israel that Obama might be tempted to accommodate Iran now, in order to head off potential gains by Republicans in the November mid-term elections.
The Israeli official was emphatic about his bottom line: “Are we going to agree to [let Iran go ahead with] enrichment? No!”
On Thursday, May 8, Netanyahu echoed this outlook, saying: “Iran must not have centrifuges or enriched uranium.” Rice proposed a limit on the number of centrifuges Iran is permitted to operate, as well as a cap on the amount of uranium it can enrich.
Our sources say Netanyahu flatly rejected Rice’s argument that the quantity and sophistication of the centrifuges are not of he highest importance, compared with the real question of how many centrifuges Iran will be allowed to operate under close international scrutiny.