Israel rejects mooted Iran deal, Kerry heads to talks

Reuters, GENEVA

Sat, Nov 09, 2013 - Page 6

Israel yesterday rejected out of hand a mooted deal between world powers and Iran, just as US. Secretary of State John Kerry prepared to join nuclear talks that aim to nail down an interim agreement on the decade-old standoff.

Western envoys say that a deal at the negotiations in Geneva is far from certain, and it would in any case mark only the first step in a long process towards settling the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program.

Nevertheless, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Iran would be getting “the deal of the century” in the talks between Tehran and six powers.

“Israel utterly rejects it and what I am saying is shared by many in the region, whether or not they express that publicly,” Netanyahu told reporters.

“Israel is not obliged by this agreement and Israel will do everything it needs to do to defend itself and the security of its people,” he said before meeting Kerry in Jerusalem.

Israel has repeatedly warned that it might strike Iran if it did not halt the nuclear program, accusing Tehran of seeking to build atomic weapons. Iran says its various nuclear facilities are geared only to civilian needs.

Tehran is trying to win respite at the talks from international sanctions which are strangling its economy. The US has said world powers will consider relaxing some of the sanctions if Iran takes verifiable steps to limit its nuclear program.

Iran and the powers are discussing a partial suspension deal covering only a limited period. It would be the first stage in a process involving many rounds of negotiations in the next few months aimed at securing a permanent agreement.

The core of that first stage would be freeing up cash frozen in foreign accounts for years, giving Iran access to funds.

Netanyahu was meeting Kerry for the third time in barely 48 hours. Kerry was due to fly immediately afterwards to Geneva, where Iran and six world powers — the US, Russia, China, France and Britain plus Germany — are holding negotiations.

Israel has called for the sanctions to remain in place until Iran has dismantled its entire uranium enrichment program.

“I understand that the Iranians are walking around very satisfied in Geneva — as well they should be, because they got everything and paid nothing,” Netanyahu said.

Kerry, on a Middle East tour, will fly to Geneva at the invitation of EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton in “an effort to help narrow differences” in the negotiations, a senior US Department of State official said.

Ashton is coordinating talks with Iran on behalf of the six.

After the first set of meetings on Thursday and yesterday, both sides said progress had been made.

Kerry said earlier in Israel that Tehran would need to prove its atomic activities were peaceful, and that Washington would not make a “bad deal, that leaves any of our friends or ourselves exposed to a nuclear weapons program”.

“We’re asking them to step up and provide a complete freeze over where they are today,” he said on Thursday.

In Geneva, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi was cautious on the chances of a deal.

“Too soon to say,” he told reporters on Thursday after the first day of talks.

“I’m a bit optimistic,” he added. “We are still working. We are in a very sensitive phase. We are engaged in real negotiations.”