ROME — Secretary of State John Kerry sought to assure Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Iran will not be allowed to cheat on any agreement to curtail its nuclear program.
Kerry and Netanyahu met in Rome today amid tension between the two allied nations over the direction of negotiations to determine the future extent of Iranian nuclear activity, which the United States and Israel suspect is being used to develop nuclear weapons capability.
“We will need to know that actions are being taken that make it crystal clear, undeniably clear, fail-safe to the world, that whatever program is pursued is indeed a peaceful program,” Kerry said before the two met at the U.S. ambassador’s residence.
Netanyahu said it would be a “tragic mistake” to ease pressure before Iran agrees to dismantle its nuclear program.
Talks have accelerated between Iran and a group of world powers, including the U.S. and Russia, to reach agreement on measures that would show the Iranian program is meant purely for peaceful purposes, as has repeatedly been stated by officials from the Persian Gulf nation. Netanyahu has been the most forceful voice against allowing Iran to continue with uranium enrichment, saying even low-level enrichment could be diverted to weapons production.
Netanyahu took pre-emptive action before the meeting with a Twitter message that any softening of sanctions against Iran would sap Israel’s willingness to make compromises in the Middle East peace process.
“Our aspiration for peace is liable to be severely affected if Iran succeeds” in getting the United Nations to ease sanctions that have damaged its economy, Netanyahu said in the message.
The prospect for a negotiated solution to the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program has sharpened differences between Israel and the U.S. on what, if any, atomic activities Iran should be allowed to continue under tighter restrictions.
Kerry said Iran must demonstrate that it will operate under the nonproliferation standards practiced by other nuclear countries, while Netanyahu set out his view that Iran be barred from uranium enrichment and other key activities.
“We have said, President Obama has made it very clear, we will pursue the diplomatic initiative but with eyes wide open, aware that it will be vital for Iran to live up to the standards that other nations that have nuclear programs live up to,” Kerry said. “No deal is better than a bad deal but, if this can solved satisfactorily diplomatically, it is clearly better for everyone,” he said.
Netanyahu was specific in what he said should be declared off-limits for Iran. It shouldn’t have “centrifuges or enrichment, shouldn’t have a plutonium heavy water reactor which is usable only for nuclear weapons, should get rid” of the enriched uranium it has stockpiled, he said.
The Israeli leader said Iran should also not maintain underground nuclear facilities, a reference to the Fordo uranium enrichment plant that could shelter centrifuges in the event of a military strike.
Iranian officials have insisted the nation has a right under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to enrich uranium as fuel for civilian nuclear power use, and won’t give up that activity. Iran says an under-construction heavy water reactor, which would produce weapons-usable plutonium, is being built to produce radioactive isotopes for medical use.
The meeting with Kerry took place with the nine-month clock running on Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that the secretary of state initiated in late July. While Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said last week that the talks are on track, he has been trying in his own tour of European capitals to seek greater international pressure on Israel to stop construction of West Bank settlements.
In turn, Netanyahu said he told Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta during a meeting last night that Europe must apply greater pressure on the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. He said they must give up their “irredentist claims” on cities in Israel such as Beersheba and Haifa with large Arab populations.