JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged international negotiators on Sunday not to “surrender” to Tehran, as he launched a media blitz three weeks ahead of a deadline for an Iranian nuclear deal.
In interviews to broadcasters from the six world powers involved in the talks, Netanyahu reiterated Israel’s long-held demand Iran be stripped of its uranium enrichment and other technologies, saying that to do otherwise would leave nuclear weaponry within reach.
“What it would mean is Iran at any time could kick the (foreign nuclear) inspectors aside or deceive them – it’s done that in the past – and go rush to make the enriched uranium that is necessary to make atomic bombs,” he told Britain’s Sky News, according to a transcript published by his office.
“And they can do that within weeks or months. That’s bad for Britain, bad for Europe, bad for the United States, bad for Russia, bad for China, very bad for Israel, bad for the Arabs too – bad for the world.”
He has urged that any deal with Iran resemble the removal of Syria’s declared chemical weapons under international agreement.
The six powers’ overarching goal is to extend the time Iran would need to make an atom bomb, if it chose to do so. To this end, they want it to cut down the number of uranium centrifuges in operation. Iran would get sanctions relief in return.
Western diplomats say an extension to the deadline is possible - but, some diplomats add, only if there is a deal in sight, not if there is no progress at all.
Israel is not a party to the Iranian nuclear diplomacy. But Netanyahu has lobbying clout in foreign capitals given Israel’s fear of its arch-enemy gaining the means to endanger its existence - and its veiled threats to launch a preemptive war.
A delegation of Israeli intelligence and nuclear experts led by Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz and National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen left on Sunday for talks with their U.S. counterparts in Washington.
Speaking to Reuters, an Israeli official said the delegation would “present Israel’s views about a possible Iranian deal” and deemed the visit “urgent” given the impending July 20 deadline.
Iran denies seeking the bomb and has weathered several rounds of U.N. Security Council sanctions meant to curb its sometimes secretive nuclear program. The Iranians point to Israel’s assumed atomic arsenal as the real regional menace.
Both Tehran officials and diplomats from the six powers negotiating with Iran say they are still hoping to meet the deadline.
But there is little indication so far they have succeeded in bridging any of the vast gaps in expectations of what a deal should look like in five rounds of talks held so far this year.
The West has accused Iran being unrealistic and inflexible, while diplomats from Tehran have said their opponents are making excessive demands.
Writing by Dan Williams; Additional reporting by Justyna Pawlak; Editing by Sophie Hares