Israeli concern over Iran nuclear talks in Vienna

By Anshel Pfeffer, February 20, 2014
Reason to smile: Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Zarif  meets with Austrian President Heinz Fischer (Photo: Reuters)

Reason to smile: Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Zarif meets with Austrian President Heinz Fischer (Photo: Reuters)

The Israeli government is concerned that the cordial but insubstantial tones of the nuclear talks taking place in Vienna this week are the start of prolonged negotiations which will allow Iran to increase its nuclear

A spokesman for European Union foreign policy chief, Baroness Catherine Ashton, the main representative of the five world powers at the P5+1 talks said that “all the concerns of the international community” would be addressed.

However, Iranian negotiators made it clear on Tuesday that they refused to discuss anything but their nuclear programme, and that any mention of issues such as their long-range missile development is off the table.

They added that there was no question of Iran dismantling its nuclear facilities. Both sides said that the talks had gone well though there was no expectation of a breakthrough in the first round of negotiations over a comprehensive solution.

The developments, or lack of them in Vienna, are stoking Israeli fears that the interim agreement signed in Geneva three months ago, which gives the Iranians limited sanctions relief in return for curbs on uranium enrichment and a partial building-freeze at the Arak heavy-water reactor and was supposed to last for only six months until a comprehensive deal is signed, will become a semi-permanent situation. Israel’s assessment is that while the main sanctions remain in place, a positive momentum has been created for the Iranian economy which has stabilised its currency, reopened its markets and removed much of the pressure on the regime in Tehran. At the same time, Iran can continue research and development in the main “bottlenecks” of its nuclear programme, including the minitaurisation of a warhead and accurate delivery systems.

“The international community is allowing Iran to solidify its position as a nuclear threshold state” said an Israeli official this week.

Former commander of Israeli military intelligence Major-General Amos Yadlin said: “Iran has been a threshold state since 2010. It has the materials, the enrichment capabilities and the knowledge that could allow it to develop a weapon and put it on a delivery device in a year’s time.”

Therefore, he said: “Israel and also Saudi Arabia, the gulf states and large parts of the American Congress are not satisfied with the interim agreement and are not prepared for it to become a permanent one.”

A comprehensive agreement, he said, must include a drastic reduction of Iran’s centrifuges, the removal from the country of uranium already enriched, the closure of the Arak reactor and “very tight” inspection of Iran’s nuclear research facilities.

Israel’s demands of the talks went a step further to include the complete removal of all the centrifuge systems.

“If the comprehensive agreement includes centrifuges and uranium enrichment, it will lead to a nuclear arms race throughout the Middle East,” Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said in a speech in Jerusalem.

To underline Israel’s message, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the temporary hospital operated by the IDF on the Golan Heights where wounded refugees from the Syrian Civil War are being treated.

“On the day the talks are opening in Vienna, the world must see the pictures from this place,” he said.

“Israel is saving the lives of the casualties of the daily massacre going on in Syria. This is the real face of Israel. While Iran is arming those who are carrying out the massacres.”

Last updated: 5:45pm, February 20 2014