By Dan Williams
JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel urged world powers that resumed talks with Iran on Tuesday to demand a full rollback of the Iranian nuclear program and not to ease economic sanctions on Tehran prematurely.
A rare statement by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyau’s security cabinet said it had “adopted unanimously” his long-standing call that Iranian uranium enrichment and plutonium facilities be shut down and all fissile material shipped abroad.
“It would be a historic mistake not to take full advantage of the sanctions, by making concessions before ensuring the dismantling of Iran’s nuclear weapons program,” said the statement, which was issued first in English for foreign consumption. A Hebrew version came out an hour and a half later.
Tehran says its nuclear energy program is focused on generating electricity and other peaceful projects. Netanyahu has pledged that Israel would never allow a nuclear-armed Iran and, hinting at possible military action to prevent such an outcome, has said it is prepared to stand alone.
The two-day Geneva talks between Iran and the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany are widely seen as the best chance in years to end deadlock in a decade-old nuclear dispute that could otherwise kindle a new Middle East war.
Prospects for defusing the stand-off may have risen with the June election of relative moderate Hassan Rowhani as president of the Islamic Republic, replacing a conservative hardliner.
Iran seeks relief from crippling international sanctions. World powers want it to move swiftly to allay concern that the nuclear projects it insists are peaceful mask a drive to get the bomb. Both sides says any deal would be complex and take time.
“These negotiations begin at a time when the Iranian regime is under great pressure because of the sanctions and is desperately trying to have them removed,” the seven-minister security cabinet said. “Sanctions must not be eased when they are so close to achieving their intended purpose.”
Speaking later in parliament, and marking 40 years since a Middle East War in which Israel was caught by surprise by Egyptian and Syrian forces that pushed into the occupied Sinai Peninsula and Golan Heights, Netanyahu said Israel must never again underestimate its enemies nor rule out pre-emptive action.
Sometimes, the right-wing premier said, inaction from fear over how the world would react to Israeli military moves could end up being more costly to Israel down the line.
“A pre-emptive war, and a pre-emptive strike, are among the hardest decisions a government must make because it will never be able to prove what would have happened had it not acted,” he said, without mentioning Iran directly.
The Israelis accuse Iran of diplomatic stalling while it builds up the capability to produce nuclear weaponry.
“Iran believes it can get by with cosmetic concessions that would not significantly impede its path to developing nuclear weapons, concessions that could be reversed in weeks. In exchange, Iran demands an easing of the sanctions, which have taken years to put in place,” the Israeli statement said.
“The international community must reject Iran’s attempts to reach a deal that leaves it with the capability to develop nuclear weapons and must insist upon a genuine and sustainable agreement,” it added, saying Israel would support such a deal.
Though widely assumed to have the Middle East’s atomic arsenal, Israel lacks the conventional forces to deliver lasting damage to Iran’s far-flung and well-defended nuclear sites. Washington, while not ruling out last-resort military action, has cautioned its Israeli ally against lashing out unilaterally.
At least one member of the security cabinet, centrist Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, previously objected to Netanyahu’s heated rhetoric about the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran.
(Writing by Dan Williams and Ari Rabinovitch, editing by Jeffrey Heller and Mark Heinrich)