Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu kept up his unrelenting lobbying against any interim deal with Iran when nuclear talks resume in Geneva this week, saying that Iran already has five bombs worth of lower enriched uranium.
Netanyahu’s comments came during an interview with Germany’s Bild newspaper, published on Tuesday. Government officials explained that this amount of uranium enriched at a lower level means that it would take relatively little effort – a matter of weeks – for the Islamic Republic to turn it into higher-grade uranium that would make up the fissile material needed for five nuclear bombs.
Netanyahu reiterated in the interview that Iran should be forced to dismantle its centrifuges and dismantle the plutonium rector being constructed at Arak.
“And if they refuse to do so, increase the sanctions,” he said. “Because the options are not a bad deal or war. There is a third option: Keep the pressure up, in fact increase the pressure.”
Netanyahu said he has made this argument to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country is one of the members of the P5+1 negotiating with Iran. Up until now, Germany has not been swayed by the arguments.
The negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 will continue on Wednesday, the same day that Netanyahu will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow to argue against what he is saying at every opportunity is a “bad agreement.”
But Putin believes Iran faces a moment of “real chance” to resolve the longstanding dispute over its nuclear program with the international community, he told Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in a telephone call on Monday.
Requesting the call two days before the third round of Geneva talks, Putin characterized the interim deal being forged in Geneva between the P5+1 and Iran as a possible “solution to this long-running problem.”
US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman is scheduled to fly to Geneva on Tuesday, where she will lead the American delegation in negotiations with Iran, as well as in separate talks in Geneva concerning Syria’s civil war.
In the Bild interview, Netanyahu said the agreement being discussed was indeed “bad” because it did not obligate the Iranians to dismantle any of its capacity to make fissile material for nuclear weapons.
“And if Iran won’t dismantle their centrifuges and their plutonium reactor now with all the pressure, when you reduce the [sanctions] pressure, you think you will get a better deal tomorrow? This is a mistake, a terrible mistake, a historic error,” he said.
Netanyahu said that rather than giving Iran sanctions relief – something he said will give Iran “billions of dollars” – the international community should ratchet up the sanctions.
“And just at a decisive moment when you can actually get Iran to back off – look who’s backing off… The P5+1 would make a terrible mistake by reducing sanctions,” he said.
Strengthening the sanctions, he added, may lead to “a better deal.”
Regarding the public dispute with US Secretary of State John Kerry over Washington’s Iranian policy, Netanyahu said that even among friends there will be disagreements.
“We agree on a lot of things, and on this point we disagree,” he said. “I have to think about the survival of my country and the survival of my people and we are not going to let Ayatollahs with nuclear weapons threaten that.”
Asked how – “considering the Iranian threat” – he wanted to be viewed by history, Netanyahu replied, “As someone who did everything on his watch to protect the Jewish people and the Jewish state so that the horrors of the past are not repeated.”