White House press secretary Jay Carney claimed Thursday that there was "no daylight between Israel and the United States" on preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, but that comment is contradicted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's assertion that any deal with the Iranians would be a "mistake of historic proportions."
Carney was asked about Netanyahu's comment, but he nevertheless said the two countries were of one mind on the issue.
"Look, there is no daylight between Israel and the United States, between the president and the prime minister, when it comes to the objective of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon," he said. "And all options remain on that table to achieve this objective. We've made that clear all along."
Carney said this was an opportunity to see whether the new leadership in Tehran was "serious" about its obligations to halt its nuclear program, but a reporter pressed him, asking what would prevent Iran from playing for time to make progress. Iran has done so before when current president Hassan Rouhani was its chief nuclear negotiator.
Experts predicted Rouhani would be a "friendly face" to the world, the Washington Free Beacon reported in June, while its military leaders quietly sought to fulfill their nuclaer ambitions.
Yet, in spite of Carney's rhetoric, Netanyahu warned Thursday against an agreement with Iran that stops short of getting it to halt its uranium enrichment, amid reports that such a deal was in the works, the Jerusalem Post reports:
"Israel understands that there are proposals on the table in Geneva today that would ease the pressure on Iran for concessions that are not concessions at all. This proposal would allow Iran to retain the capabilities to make nuclear weapons," he said during a speech to the Jewish Agency.
"This proposal will allow Iran to preserve its ability to build a nuclear weapon. Israel is completely opposed to these proposals. I believe that adopting them would be a mistake of historic proportions and they should be completely rejected," he said.
Netanyahu's comments came as Iran and the P5+1, made up of the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, resumed negotiations in Geneva.
"The sanctions regime brought the Iranian economy to the brink of the abyss, and the policies of the P5+1 can force Iran to completely dismantle its nuclear weapons program, and that means stopping all enrichment,, and all work on the heavy water reactor and on plutonium," he said.
Netanyahu added that "anything less" would decrease the chances of reaching an agreement through peaceful means. "Israel always reserves the right to defend itself, by itself, against any threat," he asserted.
Q: Moving back on Iran, you said a few minutes ago that the U.S. and Israel share the same goal: preventing Iran from having a nuclear weapon. Yet, apparently, there's a big difference brewing with Israel on this negotiating strategy right now. Netanyahu said today that this evolving deal would be a historic mistake. To what extent are you concerned that you've got a split with Israel in the making here?
CARNEY: Look, there is no daylight between Israel and the United States, between the president and the prime minister, when it comes to the objective of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. And all options remain on that table to achieve this objective. We've made that clear all along. We now — because of the effectiveness of the sanctions regime that this administration helped put in place and led the way in putting in place — an opportunity to explore whether or not the leadership in Tehran is serious about living up to its international obligations under the nonproliferation treaty, to the IAEA and to the United Nations Security Council. And it is absolutely the right approach, in our view, to test whether or not they're serious, and to do that in a careful way that would have as its first step an agreement to, — potentially, if there is an agreement — to halt all activity — advancement, rather, on Iran's nuclear program and to potentially roll it back and, in exchange for that, to allow for some temporary moderate relief — but reversible relief.
And then we would explore whether or not, in a verifiable, transparent and meaningful way, Iran was willing to assure the international community that it has forsaken its nuclear weapons program.
And we believe — and the reason to do that is because we because we believe, as we've said all long, that the best way to ensure that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon is to do it diplomatically through Iran's agreement and in a way that's verifiable and transparent because alternative means of addressing this program are not as effective necessarily, certainly not for the longer term.
Q: You spoke of buy — the idea of buying time. What's to prevent Iran for playing for time during this phased-in process that appears to be playing out here?
CARNEY: Well, look, the point I made earlier is that the first step would address Iran's most advanced nuclear activities, increase transparency so Iran will not be able to use the cover of talks to advance its program, and thereby create time and space as we negotiate a comprehensive agreement. It would stop Iran from making progress from advancing its nuclear program for the first time in nearly a decade.
But the — your question's a good one because it goes to the heart of verification here and our insistence that we take steps that are concrete and that actions are concrete and they're not just promises. So any step we took would have to be verifiable.
Q: Does the administration trust Iran? Does it trust the leadership on the other side of the table right now?
CARNEY: We have a long history of mistrust here and a reason to be highly skeptical. We are pursuing U.S. national security interests when we engage in substantive and serious negotiations through the P-5 plus one. We do it in a way that makes clear that any progress we make has to be verifiable and transparent, and — because our goal and our objective is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. And there is unity within the P-5 plus one on both the objective and the process that we're pursuing at this time.