JERUSALEM — The Israeli prime minister urged President Joe Biden and the Western powers to call off an emerging nuclear deal with Iran, saying negotiators are letting Tehran manipulate talks and that an agreement would reward Israel’s enemies.
Yair Lapid called the emerging deal a “bad deal” and suggested Biden has failed to live up to the red lines he had previously promised.
“The countries of the West are drawing a red line, the Iranians are ignoring it and the red line is moving,” Lapid told reporters at a news conference in Jerusalem. An emerging deal, Lapid said, “doesn’t meet the standards President Biden himself has set: prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear state.”
Biden was eager to revive the 2015 deal, which offered sanctions relief in exchange for curbing Iran’s nuclear program. The original deal was unraveled after then-President Donald Trump withdrew from it in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions, with strong encouragement from Israel.
It remains unclear whether the United States and Iran can reach a new agreement. But the Biden administration is expected to take up Iran’s latest offer in the coming days. Now that an agreement seems close, Israel has stepped up its efforts to block it.
Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only, although UN experts and Western intelligence agencies say Iran had an organized military nuclear program until 2003.
Non-proliferation experts warn that Iran has enriched enough uranium to 60% purity – a short technical step from 90% weapons level – to make one nuclear weapon if it decides to do so. However, Iran would still have to design a bomb and a delivery system for it, probably a project of months.
It is widely believed that Israel acquired nuclear weapons decades ago, something it has neither confirmed nor denied consistent with a policy of nuclear ambiguity.
Tehran has increasingly claimed that the Americans are now delaying the deal, though Iran has spent months back and forth in negotiations that previously stalled in both Vienna and Qatar.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said it has begun an “accurate assessment” of the US response to a European proposal and will present its own response to Europeans, the official Iranian news agency IRNA reported. Wednesday. Kanaani didn’t work out.
Lapid warned that Iran would funnel billions of dollars in unfrozen funds to hostile militant groups, such as Hezbollah in neighboring Lebanon, who threaten Israel.
“This money will fund the Revolutionary Guards,” Lapid said, later adding, “It will fund more attacks on US bases in the Middle East. It will be used to bolster Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad.”
He did not blame any powers for the apparent progress of the talks, but he opened his statement Wednesday by pinning the European Union and suggesting that those nations and other negotiating powers give in to Iran’s demands at the last minute.
“The Iranians are making demands again. The negotiators are ready to make concessions again,” Lapid said.
He cautiously reiterated that Biden, who visited Israel last month while traveling the Middle East, remains a strong ally.
Israel’s national security adviser, Eyal Hulata, is in Washington this week for talks with officials from the Biden administration, and Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz will travel to the US on Thursday to meet with the head of US Central Command. military, which oversees operations in the Middle East, and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.
Lapid is Israel’s temporary prime minister until the November 1 election, when he will face former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other rivals. Although the two men have deep differences, they hold almost identical positions when it comes to Iran. In 2015, Netanyahu, now opposition leader, made a speech to Congress in a failed attempt to derail what would become President Barack Obama’s signature foreign policy achievement.
Israel has long said it would not allow its regional arch-rival Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, and that it was not bound by the agreements between the world powers and Tehran. It has also called for diplomacy to be accompanied by a “credible” threat to take military action against Iran if necessary.
“We are not prepared to live with a nuclear threat looming over our heads from an extremist, violent Islamist regime,” Lapid said on Wednesday. “This will not happen. Because we won’t let that happen.”
Associated Press writers Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem and Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.
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