JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel is lobbying the United States against any Iranian nuclear deal that would let Tehran retain potential bomb-making technology, a senior Israeli official said on Wednesday as another deadline for international diplomacy looms.
Iran, the United States and five other world powers hope for a comprehensive agreement by Nov. 24 under which the Islamic Republic, which denies seeking nuclear weaponry, would curb its disputed activities in exchange for sanctions relief.
The official, Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, acknowledged Israel had limited sway over the talks, to which it is not a party, but voiced hope the Obama administration would keep up sanctions against Iran rather than enter a “bad deal”.
Steinitz said in a radio interview he would head a delegation to Washington next week to press Israel’s demand that Iran be stripped of all nuclear capacity - something Tehran has ruled out and many Western diplomats deem unfeasible.
Israel, believed to possess the region’s sole atomic arsenal, feels threatened by the prospect of Iran gaining any bomb. It has threatened to launch a preemptive war if it believes diplomacy has failed to stop Iran’s ambitions.
“Next week I will be leading a very large delegation to two days of talks in the United States ahead of the main, the central and possibly the last round of talks between the world powers and Iran,” Steinitz told Israel Radio.
The next round of talks is expected to take place late this month in New York, possibly on the sidelines of the annual United Nations General Assembly.
Steinitz said he saw no sign of Iran significantly scaling back enrichment, a process that can make fuel for nuclear warheads, despite diplomatic moves by President Hassan Rouhani.
“What Rouhani has done is concede on all kinds of secondary issues, partial concessions, but protected the project’s core, which is what threatens us and the whole world,” Steinitz said.
“This means that in substance Iran’s positions have remained as tough as before, and if there is no dramatic development in the coming month then either there will be no deal - or there will be a bad deal leaving Iran a nuclear threshold state, and this is of course something we are not willing to accept.”
Signaling it was holding course in the absence of an accord, the United States on Friday imposed more sanctions on companies that it said were helping Iran’s nuclear program.
Rouhani said the sanctions were against the spirit of the negotiations, but added he was not pessimistic about the talks continuing.
In a separate interview before he briefed a parliamentary committee on Iran, Steinitz sounded more circumspect.
“We do not deceive ourselves that we will succeed in achieving all of our demands,” he told Army Radio, but predicted that the November deadline would go unmet “assuming Obama keeps to his clear statement that no deal is better than a bad deal”.
Zeev Elkin, chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee which hosted Steinitz, said Israeli military intelligence believed Iran and the United States were growing closer - an apparent reference to their common concern at the spread of a Sunni Islamist insurgency in Iraq.
“This is another reason to be worried,” Elkin said, echoing Israeli concern that Washington could soften its stance in the nuclear talks.
The previous deadline, July 20, was missed amid disputes including over the scale of uranium enrichment world powers were willing to allow Iran to keep.
Editing by Alison Williams