Israel’s Unworkable Demands on Iran – NYTimes.com
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has gone into overdrive against a nuclear agreement with Iran. On Monday, his government made new demands that it claimed would ensure a better deal than the preliminary one that Iran, President Obama and other leaders of major powers announced last week. The new demands are unrealistic and, if pursued, would not mean a better deal but no deal at all.
Mr. Netanyahu is acting as if he alone can dictate the terms of an agreement that took 18 months and involved not just Iran and the United States but Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. He wants to appear reasonable. “I’m not trying to kill any deal; I’m trying to kill a bad deal,” he said on NBC News’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. But he offers no workable options.
There are important details to be worked out before a final agreement is expected to be concluded by June 30. Even so, the framework is surprisingly comprehensive and offers the best potential for preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
As outlined on Monday by Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s minister of intelligence and strategic affairs, the Israelis are now insisting that Iran end all research and development on advanced centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium; reduce the number of operating centrifuges at its Natanz plant beyond what was agreed to in the framework; and close its underground enrichment facility at Fordo. Also, Israel has demanded that Iran allow inspections “anywhere, anytime” by international monitors, ship its stockpile of enriched uranium out of the country and disclose past nuclear-related activities that might involve military uses.
In any negotiation, there could never be a deal without compromise. It would be preferable if every vestige of Iran’s nuclear program were eradicated. But that was never going to happen, not least because Iran’s know-how could never be erased.
Iran’s leaders would not accept a deal in which they did not maintain some elements of a nuclear program tailored for energy and medical purposes — not weapons. Ultimately, Mr. Obama had to make many judgment calls in getting a deal that would prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
The alternative is no deal, and Iran simply moves forward on its nuclear program without any limits. Shuttering Fordo was an early goal, but, in the end, the agreement would allow Iran to keep a small number of centrifuges spinning and to produce medical isotopes at the plant. For the Iranians, it was a matter of political symbolism and jobs to keep the plant open; Mr. Obama apparently felt there were enough protections that he could agree.
Ideally, more of the 10,000 centrifuges operating at the Natanz enrichment plant would be stopped, as Israel has demanded, but the agreement would halt 5,000 — a significant reduction. The deal permits Iran to retain only a small amount of enriched uranium and provides options for disposing of the rest (including shipping it out of the country). All the options would ensure that Iran can’t enrich the material for nuclear weapons.
While the deal does not grant international monitors the right to go anywhere, anytime, it does impose a tough inspection regime and establishes a commission to resolve disputes if Iran blocks access to a suspected site. It allows research on advanced centrifuges, but the machines can’t be used for enrichment for 10 years. There is confusion about how the deal addresses Iran’s willingness to come clean on its past military activities, but experts have said that a final agreement would require Iran to answer all questions before sanctions are lifted.
The Israelis have also said there should be no agreement or lifting of sanctions until Iran recognizes Israel. Iran’s hostility and threats toward Israel and its involvement in terrorist activities are heinous and unacceptable. But those issues should be dealt with separately; resolving them should not be made conditions of the nuclear agreement. Getting to a final deal won’t be easy. Mr. Obama must continue to be tough and determined in the coming months of negotiations. Israel’s demands, however, must not become an excuse to scuttle what seems to be a very serious and potentially groundbreaking deal.