Israel, Iranian hard-liners condemn nuclear deal

Published April 4th, 2015 - 05:41 GMT
On opposing sides and opposite reasns, both Iranian hard-liners and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu oppose the new framework deal, which allows Iran to keep around 5,000 of its nearly 20,000 nuclear centrifuges. (AFP/File)
On opposing sides and opposite reasns, both Iranian hard-liners and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu oppose the new framework deal, which allows Iran to keep around 5,000 of its nearly 20,000 nuclear centrifuges. (AFP/File)

 Hard-liners in Iran and the Israeli government both condemned the framework deal on curbing Tehran’s nuclear program Friday, from opposite directions but for the same reason: The agreement, they said, gives away too much.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the understandings fail to outright shut down any of Iran’s nuclear facilities, while legitimizing its uranium enrichment program and leaving it with an infrastructure that could eventually be capable of producing a bomb.

He warned the deal “threatens the very survival” of Israel, and put forward a new demand, that any final deal include Iran’s recognition of Israel’s right to exist.

Iran’s powerful hard-liners, meanwhile, pointed to the heavy restrictions that would effectively lock those facilities and enrichment into a slow, low gear for at least a decade. They accused the government of moderate President Hassan Rouhani of surrendering a nuclear program that Iran has boasted for years demonstrates its technological prowess, self-sufficiency and defiance of the West.

“We gave up a race-ready horse and we got in return a broken bridle,” Hossein Shariatmadari, an adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and editor of the hard-line Kayhan newspaper, told the semi-official Fars news agency.

The reactions underscore the pressures that will weigh on Western and Iranian negotiators as they now work to turn the broad understandings into a detailed accord by June 30 – and raise questions about how far detractors on both sides will go to try to prevent a final agreement.

Or if they can. The framework won praise from Western governments and from many in Iran who support its provisions for the lifting of sanctions that have long crippled the economy.

Much depends on Iran’s supreme leader, Khamenei, who holds the final say on all political matters. There was no immediate comment from him Friday to judge how he was leaning on the framework understandings. From the start, Khamenei expressed skepticism that the talks would succeed, but he allowed them to go on.

Rouhani said the framework deal was just the first step toward building a new relationship with the world.

In a televised speech, Rouhani, elected in a landslide two years ago on a promise to reduce Iran’s isolation, said the nuclear negotiations were just the start of a broader policy of opening up.

“This is a first step toward productive interactions with the world,” he said. “Today is a day that will remain in the historic memory of the Iranian nation,” he added. “Some think that we must either fight the world or surrender to world powers. We say it is neither of those, there is a third way. We can have cooperation with the world.”

Meanwhile, U.S. officials said Washington would not endorse an agreement that threatens Israel, but declined to be drawn into a discussion on Netanyahu’s demand that Tehran recognize Tel Aviv.

Asked about the demand, White House spokesman Eric Schultzsaid that he had not seen the specific request but was aware of Israel’s ongoing concerns.

“We understand his position,” Schultz told reporters aboard Air Force One, “The president would never sign onto a deal that he felt was a threat to the state of Israel.”

A key U.S. ally, Saudi Arabia, appeared to be withholding judgment. The kingdom has feared an agreement would leave Tehran within reach of one day building a nuclear bomb and would indirectly legitimize Tehran’s power around the Middle East. Speaking to President Barack Obama by phone late Thursday, King Salmanexpressed his hope that “a binding final deal is reached that leads to the strengthening of the region’s security and stability,” according to the Saudi state news agency.

The core of the understandings involve provisions that dramatically restrain Iran’s nuclear facilities, even as Tehran maintains that they are not intended to produce a bomb.

According to the framework deal, Tehran would be allowed to operate only just over 5,000 of the nearly 20,000 centrifuges it has installed at its main enrichment site. Much of its enriched stockpiles would be neutralized, and a planned reactor would be reconstructed so it can’t produce weapons-grade plutonium.

Monitoring and inspections by the U.N. nuclear agency would be enhanced, and uranium enrichment would be halted at an underground, heavily fortified once-secret facility at Fordo which would be made into a nuclear research facility. The restrictions would last for 10 or 15 years.

Western negotiators say that under those conditions Iran cannot produce a weapon and, if it breaks the accord, it would still be unable to do so for another year. Israel contends Iran cannot be trusted and that leaving certain facilities intact would allow the Iranians to eventually build a bomb.

Rather than blocking the path to a bomb, “such a deal paves Iran’s path to the bomb,” Netanyahu said.

In the last frantic weeks of negotiations between the U.S. and its allies and Iran, Netanyahu turned to the U.S. Congress for support, and his government will likely continue to call for American lawmakers to do so.

Netanyahu said Israel “demands that any agreement with Iran will include a clear and unambiguous Iranian recognition of Israel’s right to exist.”

After meeting with his Cabinet, which he said was “strongly united” against the deal, Netanyahu said Israel “will not accept an agreement which allows a country that vows to annihilate us to develop nuclear weapons, period.”

He called on the world powers to stand firm and increase pressure on Iran until what he termed a good deal is achieved.

Still, it is unlikely Israel will be able to prevent a final agreement, given the broad international support. Cabinet Minister Yuval Steinitz, speaking on Israel Army Radio, said Israel would “fight in the coming three or four months to prevent a bad deal, or at least make sure that it will be less bad.”

On the other side, Iran’s hard-liners, who dominate most of the country’s institutions and the military and security forces, have opposed negotiations with the West from the start. But their ability to stop the deal is hampered if Khamenei is willing to see it go through – still an open question.

Ahmad Tavakkoli, a prominent conservative lawmaker, wrote a letter to Rouhani Thursday saying the agreement needs ratification by the country’s conservative-dominated parliament. Supporters of the negotiations argue that the talks were conducted under Khamenei’s direct supervision and therefore don’t require parliamentary approval.

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