Netanyahu calls U.S. strategy at Iran nuclear talks a mistake

JERUSALEM – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday condemned the Obama administration’s strategy in ongoing nuclear talks with Iran, saying any deal based on the approach would be a “mistake of historic proportions.”

In an address to world Jewish leaders in Israel, Netanyahu said a U.S.-devised proposal would give the Iranians limited sanctions relief while allowing them to continue their suspected drive to nuclear weapons capability. Instead, he said, the six world powers negotiating with Iran should demand a complete halt to uranium enrichment and a full dismantling of the Iranian nuclear complex.

The proposals on the table at meetings this week in Geneva would ease pressure on Iran by demanding concessions “that are not concessions at all,” Netanyahu said. “Israel totally opposes these proposals. I believe that adopting them is a mistake of historic proportions. They must be rejected outright.”

Officials from the so-called P5 Plus One group -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France plus Germany -- are meeting with Iranian negotiators Thursday and Friday for the second round of talks in a series that began last month. Both sides are expressing cautious optimism.

U.S. officials said this week they are seeking a “first step” agreement with Iran that would grant some “limited, temporary, reversible" sanctions relief if it agrees to halt some aspects of its nuclear program and roll back others.

U.S. officials have not provided full details of their offer, but analysts say it probably allows Iran to continue some enrichment.

U.S. officials have gone public with their goals in an attempt to build support in Congress and among foreign partners who are concerned about a program they fear is aimed at developing a nuclear weapons capability. Iran says it is processing uranium for civilian uses such as energy production and medical research.

Robert Danin, a longtime U.S. diplomat in the Middle East, said Netanyahu's comments were likely to irritate the Obama administration, which is trying to satisfy a number of audiences as it leads negotiations with the Iranian government.

With Secretary of State John F. Kerry now in Jerusalem, Netanyahu “clearly had an opportunity to use quiet diplomacy and opted not to. … The administration will likely resent the tone and the timing, and a feeling that their room for maneuver may be constrained,” said Danin, now with the Council on Foreign Relations.

Netanyahu’s condemnation may also set back the administration’s efforts to convince members of Congress to delay imposing any new sanctions on Iran while talks continue.

Netanyahu argued the six powers have strong leverage over Iran with their sanctions and shouldn’t settle for anything less than an end to the program.

“The sanctions regime has brought the Iranian economy to the edge of the abyss. And the P5 Plus One can compel Iran to fully dismantle its nuclear weapons program. This means ending all enrichment, stopping all work on the heavy water plutonium reactor.”

“Anything else will make a peaceful solution less likely,” he said.


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Twitter: @richtpau

Staff writer Richter reported from Washington and special correspondent Sobelman from Jerusalem.

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