With the international community inching toward an agreement with Iran that would slow parts of that nation's nuclear program, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday cautioned against accepting "an exceedingly bad deal" that he says would threaten the very existence of his country.
"I'm the prime minister of Israel. I have to care for the survival of my country. And Iran maintaining its nuclear weapons capability — that is, the capacity to produce nuclear weapons — threatens directly the future of the Jewish state," Mr. Netanyahu said on CNN's "State of the Union" program.
"We've been around, the Jewish people, for about 4,000 years, and we're not about to let ayatollahs armed with nuclear weapons threaten that," he said.
Iranian officials are set to meet in Geneva this week with representatives of the P5+1 coalition, comprised of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — the U.S. China, France, Britain and Russia — plus Germany. The two sides left Geneva two weeks ago without a firm deal, though American and foreign officials reported that an agreement is coming into focus.
Such a deal reportedly would involve more inspections of Iranian facilities and would slow Iran's progress toward nuclear capability, buying crucial time and possibly allowing a long-term agreement to be struck.
If Iran agrees, the international community could begin to ease economic sanctions that have crippled Iran's economy and, presumably, have helped bring the would-be nuclear power to the bargaining table.
The softening of sanctions is a key part of the Obama administration's strategy in dealing with Iran, and the U.S. clearly believes a window of opportunity exists now that new Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani is in power in Tehran. Mr. Rouhani has, at least on the surface, expressed a willingness to negotiate with other nations and has embraced some reforms.
But Mr. Netanyahu, skeptical of Iran's true motivations and doubtful the nation would abandon its nuclear ambitions, said economic sanctions have had a real effect and that easing them — without a concrete agreement to dismantle uranium-enrichment facilities and take other actions — would be a grave mistake.
"You let out a lot of pressure and Iran is practically giving away nothing. It is making a minor concession which they can reverse in weeks and you endanger the whole sanctions regime which took years to make," he said.
Furthermore, he argued that foreign investors immediately would pour money into the Iranian economy and strengthen that nation's global standing, making it less likely that Tehran would engage in good-faith negotiations.
"You're going to get investors, companies and countries scrambling, one after the other, to try and get deals with Iran," Mr. Netanyahu said. "If you took all that pressure, all these years to build up the sanctions regime and it's finally working, it's finally getting there and Iran is really on the ropes ... and all the sudden you take off the pressure, everybody will understand you're heading south. You're really going to be in danger of crumbling the sanctions regime."
Some in Congress have suggested that sanctions actually should be ratcheted up, not eased. The White House opposes such a step, and President Obama has stressed that any relief offered to Iran would be limited and reversible.
The administration also is casting the ongoing negotiations with Iran as incremental progress toward a larger goal.
"It has never been realistic that we would resolve the entire problem all at once. What we have done is seen the possibility of an agreement in which Iran would halt advances on its program," Mr. Obama said at a news conference last week. "In return, the basic structure of what's being talked about, although not completed, is that we would provide very modest relief at the margins of the sanctions that we've set up. But important, we would leave in place the core sanctions that are most effective and have the most impact on the Iranian economy, specifically oil sanctions and sanctions with respect to banks and financing."
Secretary of State John F. Kerry will meet with Mr. Netanyahu in Israel later this week to continue pitching a deal.
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