Pro-Israel News

Monday, April 6, 2015

Paper distributed by senior Likud minister queries immediate sanctions relief, failure to secure ‘anytime, anywhere’ inspections, and other alleged central flaws in Lausanne framework agreement


BY TIMES OF ISRAEL STAFF April 6, 2015, 3:33 pm | The Times of Israel|

Israel on Monday posed 10 questions to the US-led negotiators with Iran that it said underlined “the extent of the irresponsible concessions given to Iran” in the framework agreement reached last Thursday, and made clear “how dangerous the framework is for Israel, the region and the world.”

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The questions were listed in a document distributed by Israel’s Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, a Likud party member and confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The document (see accompanying PDF here) reiterated Netanyahu’s assertion that “a better deal” can and must be reached. It protested that the framework agreement reached in Lausanne, Switzerland, and hailed by President Barack Obama as “historic,” “ignores the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program to Israel.” By contrast, it charged, “great consideration” was given to Iran, “an enemy of the Unites States, whose regime, even during the negotiations, continued to conduct aggression in the region and to call for the destruction of Israel.”

It charged that “the framework deal does not block Iran’s path to the bomb. By removing the sanctions and lifting the main restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in about a decade, this framework paves Iran’s path to a bomb.”


Echoing criticisms leveled by Netanyahu since the deal was reached, the document further protested that “not a single nuclear facility will be shut down. Iran will be permitted to continue its advanced centrifuge R&D, and [the issue of] its intercontinental ballistic missile program remains unaddressed.”

Apart from what it called “the significant differences in the parties’ interpretations of the framework – reflected in the conflicting statements and ‘fact sheets’ they issued” — the Israeli document posed the following 10 questions:

1. Why are sanctions that took years to put in place being removed immediately (as the Iranians claim)? This would take away the international community’s primary leverage at the outset of the agreement and make Iranian compliance less likely.

2. Given Iran’s track record of concealing illicit nuclear activities, why does the framework not explicitly require Iran to accept inspections of all installations where suspected nuclear weapons development has been conducted? Why can’t inspectors conduct inspections anywhere, anytime?

3. Will Iran ever be forced to come clean about its past nuclear weaponization activity?

4. What will be the fate of Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium?

5. Why will Iran be allowed to continue R&D on centrifuges far more advanced than those currently in its possession?

6. Why does the framework not address Iran’s intercontinental ballistic missile program, whose sole purpose is to carry nuclear payloads?

7. Following Iranian violations of the framework, how effective will be the mechanism to reinstitute sanctions?

8. What message does the framework send to states in the region and around the world when it gives such far-reaching concessions to a regime that for years has defied UNSC resolutions? Why would this not encourage nuclear proliferation?

9. The framework agreement appears to have much in common with the nuclear agreement reached with North Korea. How will this deal differ from the North Korean case?

10. Why is the lifting of restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in about a decade not linked to a change in Iran’s behavior? According to the framework, Iran could remain the world’s foremost sponsor of terror and still have all the restrictions removed. Instead, the removal of those restrictions should be linked to a cessation of Iran’s aggression in the Middle East, its terrorism around the world and its threats to annihilate Israel.”

The document ended with the assertion that “the alternative to this framework is a better deal, one that will significantly dismantle Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, bring about a cessation of its aggression in the region and terrorist activities around the world, as well as end its efforts to destroy Israel. The framework deal does not block Iran’s path to the bomb. By removing the sanctions and lifting the main restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in about a decade, this framework paves Iran’s path to a bomb. The result will be a dramatic increase in the risks of nuclear proliferation and an increase in the chances of a terrible war.”



Friday, April 3, 2015

Amid fierce criticism of nuclear agreement, cabinet set to meet with security chiefs for special weekend consultation

BY TIMES OF ISRAEL STAFF April 3, 2015, 9:25 am | The Times of Israel| 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a special weekend meeting of the cabinet to discuss the nuclear deal reached Thursday between Iran and world powers.


The meeting Friday will include the heads of Israel’s security and intelligence agencies, according to reports.

The nuclear deal reached in Switzerland between Tehran and the P5+1 group of world powers “threatens the survival of the state of Israel,” Netanyahu said on Thursday in a phone call with US President Barack Obama.

Obama phoned Netanyahu hours after the framework was struck. Netanyahu has been strongly opposed to the emerging deal, arguing that it does not have the necessary safeguards and will pave the way to a nuclear Iran.

“A deal based on this framework would threaten the survival of Israel. Just two days ago, Iran said that “the destruction of Israel is nonnegotiable,” and in these fateful days Iran is accelerating the arming of its terror proxies to attack Israel. This deal would legitimize Iran’s nuclear program, bolster Iran’s economy, and increase Iran’s aggression and terror throughout the Middle East and beyond,” Netanyahu told Obama during the call.

“Such a deal would not block Iran’s path to the bomb. It would pave it. It would increase the risks of nuclear proliferation in the region and the risks of a horrific war. The alternative is standing firm and increasing the pressure on Iran until a better deal is achieved,” he added.

Obama, calling from aboard Air Force One, said the deal “represents significant progress towards a lasting, comprehensive solution that cuts off all of Iran’s pathways to a bomb and verifiably ensures the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program going forward,” according to a read-out released by the White House.

Obama said the deal “in no way diminishes our concerns with respect to Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism and threats towards Israel and emphasized that the United States remains steadfast in our commitment to the security of Israel,” the White House said.

The US president told Netanyahu that he instructed his security team to “increase consultations with the new Israeli government about how we can further strengthen our long-term security cooperation with Israel and remain vigilant in countering Iran’s threats.”

Earlier, immediately after the deal was announced, an Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, castigated the framework agreement as a dangerous capitulation to Tehran that would result in the Islamic Republic’s nuclear armament.


“This is a bad framework that will lead to a bad and dangerous deal,” he said. “If an agreement is reached based on the guidelines of this framework, that would be a historic mistake that will transform the world into a much more dangerous place.”

Those comments came shortly after Obama had welcomed the deal as making the world “a safer place.” Netanyahu had tweeted earlier in the evening that the deal would need to “significantly” roll back the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.

Obama, in his speech following the accord, openly acknowledged that he and Netanyahu “don’t agree” on how to stop Iran, and charged that Netanyahu did not want the US to move “forward to a peaceful resolution,” while telling Netanyahu that the new deal was “the most effective” and “best option.”

Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog said in a statement published on Facebook that the crux of the understandings reached between Iran and world powers was still to be finalized, and that “we must ensure that the final agreement, which will be formulated now, will roll back Iran’s nuclear program in a manner that prevents it from [obtaining] a nuclear weapon, and will protect the security interests of Israel.”

Centrist Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid noted: “On the Iranian nuclear issue, there is no opposition and coalition. We are all concerned that the Iranians will circumvent the deal and Israel must protect its own security interests. The ayatollah’s regime has been peddling fraud and deception for years and progressing with its nuclear program. They will try, from day one, to cheat the international community as they have done in the past.”

Added Lapid: There is no basis to the determination that today Iran was prevented from attaining a nuclear weapon. Israel needs to work with the United States and the international community to ensure there is no Iranian fraud, something that would threaten Israel’s security and that of the world.”


Thursday, April 2, 2015

BY AFP AND TIMES OF ISRAEL STAFF April 2, 2015, 2:06 pm| The Times of Israel|


Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz said Thursday that all options including military action were on the table in the face of the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran.


Speaking to Israel Radio as crunch talks on Iran’s nuclear program continued in Switzerland, Steinitz said Israel would seek to counter any threat through diplomacy and intelligence but “if we have no choice we have no choice… the military option is on the table.”

Asked about possible US objections to Israeli military action, Steinitz pointed to Israel’s unilateral attack against the Osirak nuclear reactor in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 1981.

“That operation was not carried out in agreement with the United States,” he said.


Steinitz, a close ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said the Israeli leader had left no doubt as to the country’s response to nuclear-armed Iran.

“The prime minister has said clearly that Israel will not allow Iran to become a nuclear power,” Steinitz said.

In Lausanne, Switzerland, weary negotiators hoped to see the light at the end of the tunnel Thursday after talking until dawn, but cautioned they were still haggling over the last details to clinch a ground-breaking Iran nuclear deal.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif talked through the night, going line by line over their differences in a bid to seal the outlines of a framework accord to cut back Iran’s nuclear ambitions, diplomats close to the talks said.

They made “significant progress,” but there is no “final result yet,” Zarif told reporters at the luxury lakeside Lausanne hotel hosting the marathon negotiations for the past eight days.

The six powers “have to examine among themselves the results of the negotiations. We don’t know yet the result of those discussions.”

But a Western diplomat cautioned “the conclusion is far from being imminent.”

And German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier canceled a planned trip to the Baltics to stay at the talks in Switzerland.

In a sign that eight days of negotiations may be drawing to a close, Zarif said he and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini would make a “joint declaration” to the press if everyone was in agreement.

“But the text still has to be worked on,” he said.

After 18 months of intense negotiations, the six world powers and Iran are hoping to pin down the main contours of a deal to put a nuclear bomb out of Iran’s reach.

The aim is to turn this into a comprehensive accord backed by specific technical commitments by June 30 when an interim deal struck in November 2013 expires.

After just a few hours’ sleep, the six world powers — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States — were back at the negotiating table.


High stakes

The stakes were very high, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said, adding that at issue was the question of non-proliferation, and “Iran’s reintegration into the international community.”

Under the interim 2013 accord, which has been extended twice and which expires on June 30, Iran froze certain nuclear activities in return for minor sanctions relief.

Success in Lausanne would end a 12-year-old standoff. Failure may set the United States and Israel on a road to military action to thwart Iran’s nuclear drive.

The White House said the talks were still “productive” and progress was being made.


“But if we are in a situation where we sense that the talks have stalled then yes, the United States and the international community is prepared to walk away,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.

Iran’s chief negotiator Abbas Arqghchi had said there were two main sticking points — a mechanism for lifting crippling sanctions against the Islamic republic, and the country’s research and development of new nuclear machinery.

Global powers want Iran to scale down its nuclear program to extend the “breakout” time needed to assemble enough nuclear material to make a bomb, which Iran has always denied seeking.

But Iranian negotiators are under pressure from domestic hardliners not to give too much away — while also delivering on President Hassan Rouhani’s promise to win the lifting of sanctions.

Global powers have refused an immediate end to all sanctions, preferring instead a phased suspension to enable them to be put back in place if Iran violates the deal.

The issue of suspending UN sanctions is particularly tricky — Iran is also subject to US and EU ones — with discord among the powers about the mechanism for a “snap-back” mechanism if needed.

US President Barack Obama also needs a deal which he can sell to hostile Republicans in Congress, who remain skeptical of Iran’s pledges and are threatening to push for new sanctions from April 14.

Republicans and US allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia fear that if too much of Iran’s nuclear program is left intact, it will still have the ability to obtain a nuclear bomb.


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

In infuriated statement, PM pans emerging ‘unconscionable’ deal, says cessation of Tehran’s aggression ‘should be nonnegotiable’

BY TIMES OF ISRAEL STAFF AND AP April 1, 2015, 1:35 pm | The Times of Israel| 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday excoriated world powers over their dogged pursuit of a nuclear deal with Iran, pointing to recent statements by officials in Tehran — notably their calls to eliminate Israel — as evidence of the Islamic Republic’s unwillingness to compromise on its nuclear ambitions and campaign of “terror, subjugation and conquest.”


In tones of moral outrage, he issued a brief, infuriated statement to camera, protesting that the talks were continuing in Lausanne even as Iran reiterated its insistent goal of destroying the Jewish state.

“Yesterday an Iranian general brazenly declared, and I quote, ‘Israel’s destruction is nonnegotiable,'” Netanyahu began, referring to astatement by Mohammad Reza Naqd, the commander of the Basij militia of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

“But evidently, giving Iran’s murderous regime a clear path to the bombis negotiable,” he said. “This is unconscionable.”

Netanyahu’s comments came as diplomats from Iran and a group of six world powers, led by the United States, resumed negotiations over the terms of a nuclear deal, hours after a deadline for such a deal elapsed.

He charged that Iran’s actions and ongoing “aggression” across the Middle East proved it did not intend to give up its nuclear and regional ambitions.

“I agree with those who have said that Iran’s claim that its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes doesn’t square with Iran’s insistence on keeping underground nuclear facilities, advanced centrifuges, and a heavy water reactor,” he said. “Nor does it square with Iran’s insistence on developing ICBMs [Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles], and its refusal to come clean with the International Atomic Energy Agency on its past weaponization efforts.

“At the same time, Iran is accelerating its campaign of terror, subjugation and conquest throughout the region, most recently in Yemen,” he continued.

Netanyahu’s reference to “those who have said” Iran does not require such capabilities marked the second time in two days that he has obliquely referred to comments made by President Barack Obama at the Saban Conference in December 2013, without citing Obama by name. The two leaders are bitterly at odds over strategies for thwarting Iran.

The prime minister claimed that “the concessions offered to Iran in Lausanne would ensure a bad deal that would endanger Israel, the Middle East and the peace of the world,” and called on the international community “to insist on a better deal… which would significantly roll back Iran’s nuclear infrastructure” and “link the eventual lifting of the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program to a change in Iran’s behavior.”

He called on world powers to ensure that Iran “stop its aggression in the region, stop its terrorism throughout the world, and stop its threats to annihilate Israel.”

That should be nonnegotiable. And that’s the deal that the world powers must insist upon,” he concluded.

The negotiators resumed talks in the Swiss resort town of Lausanne Wednesday, just hours after abandoning a March 31 deadline to reach the outline of a deal and agreeing to press on. However, as the discussions dragged on, three of the six foreign ministers involved left the talks, and prospects for agreement remained uncertain.


Claiming enough progress had been made to warrant an extension after six days of intense bartering, and eager to avoid a collapse in the discussions, US Secretary of State John Kerry and his British and German counterparts huddled in Lausanne to continue a marathon effort to bridge still significant gaps and hammer out details of a framework accord.

The foreign ministers of China, France and Russia all departed Lausanne overnight, although the significance of their absence, particularly when the broader group meets with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, was not clear.

If they succeed, those understandings would form the basis for a comprehensive detailed agreement to be reached by the end of June.

After the talks last broke in the early hours of Wednesday, Zarif said solutions to many of the problems had been found and that documents attesting to that would soon be drafted. Other officials were more skeptical.

Asked how high the chances of success were, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said: “I cannot say.” And British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said Iran might still not be ready to accept what is on the table.

“I’m optimistic that we will make further progress this morning but it does mean the Iranians being willing to meet us where there are still issues to deal with,” Hammond told British reporters. “Fingers crossed and we’ll hope to get there during the course of the day.”

Although the Chinese, French and Russian ministers left their deputies in charge, Kerry postponed his planned Tuesday departure to stay in Lausanne, and an Iranian negotiator said his team would stay “as long as necessary” to clear the remaining hurdles.

Officials say their intention is to produce a joint statement outlining general political commitments to resolving concerns about Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, and their intention to begin a new phase of negotiations to get to that point. In addition, they are trying to fashion other documents that would lay out in more detail the steps they must take by June 30 to meet those goals.

The additional documents would allow the sides to make the case that the next round of talks will not simply be a continuation of negotiations that have already been twice extended since an interim agreement between Iran, the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany was concluded in November 2013. President Barack Obama and other leaders, including Iran’s, have said they are not interested in a third extension.


But if the parties agree only to a broad framework that leaves key details unresolved, Obama can expect stiff opposition at home from members of Congress who want to move forward with new, stiffer Iran sanctions. Lawmakers had agreed to hold off on such a measure through March while the parties negotiated. The White House says new sanctions would scuttle further diplomatic efforts to contain Iran’s nuclear work and possibly lead Israel to act on threats to use military force to accomplish that goal.

And despite the progress that diplomats said merited the extension of talks into Wednesday, officials said the differences notably included issues over uranium enrichment, the status of Iran’s enriched uranium stockpiles, limits on Iran’s nuclear research and development, and the timing and scope of sanctions relief.

The US and its negotiating partners are demanding curbs on Iranian nuclear activities that could be used to make weapons, and they say any agreement must extend the time Tehran would need to produce a weapon from the present several months to at least a year. The Iranians deny such military intentions, but they are negotiating with the aim that a deal will end sanctions on their economy.


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Amid talk of Obama backing pro-Palestine motions, bipartisan group says it opposes ‘efforts to bypass direct negotiations and impose peace terms on Israel’

BY REBECCA SHIMONI STOIL March 31, 2015, 3:41 am | The Times of Israel| 

WASHINGTON — As reports proliferate that the US administration is considering stripping Israel of the protective diplomatic umbrella with which it has historically provided the Jewish state in the international arena — including its vetoing of UN resolutions damaging to Jerusalem — a bipartisan group of US senators urged President Barack Obama in a letter Monday to avoid threatening Israel with such punitive measures and to reassert Washington’s support for the state.


The letter obtained by the Times of Israel was signed by two Democrats and two Republicans who did not directly criticize the president’s policies, but did warn that “using the United Nations to push Israel and the Palestinians to accept terms defined by others will only ensure that the parties themselves are not committed to observing these provisions.”

Democratic Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Mark Warner (D-VA) joined with Republican Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Roger Wicker (R-MS) in signing the missive, which stated their opposition to “efforts to bypass direct negotiations and impose peace terms on Israel at the UN and other international bodies.”

The senators reminded the president that America’s “longstanding commitment to Israel transcends any one leader or government” — a not particularly veiled reference to the personal acrimony between Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.


Relations between the two leaders have hit a new low in recent weeks, after Netanyahu appeared before Congress to warn against an impending deal with Iran which the Obama administration has been working on since 2013. The negotiations toward a political framework for a comprehensive deal are expected to conclude by Tuesday and Netanyahu has continued to warn that the deal is one that will endanger Israel’s security.

The tension only increased following Netanyahu’s reelection two weeks after his Congressional address. The Obama administration complained about statements made by Netanyahu in the final days of the campaign, during which he warned that Arab voters were turning out “in droves” to vote against them and said that no Palestinian state would be created during his premiership.

In reaction, the administration indicated that it would “evaluate” its actions toward achieving a two-state solution, hinting that it might not block — and might perhaps even draft — a UN resolution in support of Palestinian independence.

Netanyahu later walked back the latter statement, and apologized to Arab leaders for the former statement, but the Obama administration has continued its critical stance toward Netanyahu.

“We’ve made our point,” a White House official told Politico on Sunday. “The message has clearly been received. The next move is theirs, presumably after the new government has been formed.”

But the administration has been under increased pressure to moderate its stance. The same Politico article reported that a dozen Jewish Democrats in the House of Representatives — including some stalwart Obama allies — had told Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes that Obama needed to tone down his rhetoric regarding Israel.

On Saturday, the Washington Post published a scathing editorial in which the paper’s editorial board declared that “Mr. Obama’s efforts to promote a settlement [with the Palestinians], going back to 2009, ignored innumerable warnings (including from this page) that he was premising his diplomacy on breakthroughs that were not achievable. It is Mr. Obama who has long been pretending, and he compounds his mistake by claiming that the reality he now accepts was created 10 days ago by Mr. Netanyahu’s rhetoric.”

Monday’s letter echoed the same discontent with an administration that has posed challenges to Jewish Democrats who are at pains to emphasize that support for Israel is not just a Republican issue.

“For decades, both Democratic and Republican administrations have stood by Israel in opposing anti-Israel or one-sided resolutions at the UN Security Council and other UN agencies,” the senators noted, telling the president that “we must remain firm in opposing actions that are designed to circumvent direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.”

Such actions, the senators warned, “will set back the opportunities for peace in the long term.”

“We must make clear our willingness to use our veto power to block such efforts at the UN Security Council and our continuing defense of Israel at the United Nations Human Rights Council and other agencies where Israel is under constant assault,” the senators emphasized.

The senators quoted Obama’s own 2011 address to the UN General Assembly in which he told the international body that “ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians — not us — who much reach agreement on the issues that divide them.”


Monday, March 30, 2015
As officials convene to hammer out a nuclear deal, prime minister vows to ‘continue to act against every threat’
BY AFP AND TIMES OF ISRAEL STAFF March 30, 2015, 4:55 pm | The Times of Israel| 
Foreign ministers from major powers raced against the clock in the Swiss town of Lausanne Monday on the eve of a deadline to nail down the final pieces of a framework deal they hope will put any Iranian nuclear bomb out of reach.
Meanwhile in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Western powers that any agreement with Tehran would be seen as a reward for the country’s alleged “aggression” in Yemen.
“The agreement being formulated… sends a message that there is no price for aggression and, on the contrary, that Iran’s aggression is to be rewarded,” Netanyahu said, referring to Iranian support for Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen.
“The moderate and responsible countries in the region, especially Israel and also many other countries, will be the first to be hurt by this agreement,” said the prime minister, who has waged a campaign against the emerging nuclear deal with Tehran, arguing that it will pave the way “to an Iranian nuclear arsenal.
“One cannot understand that when forces supported by Iran continue to conquer more ground in Yemen, in Lausanne they are closing their eyes to this aggression,” Netanyahu said. “But we are not closing our eyes and we will continue to act against every threat in every generation, certainly in this generation.”
Adding to the drama, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was set to leave the crunch talks with Iran in Switzerland and will only return if there is a “realistic” chance of a deal, his spokeswoman said.
Lavrov and his counterparts from the United States, China, Britain, France and Germany met with the Iranians in a lakeside Lausanne hotel on Monday for their first full session since missing a previous November deadline.
They want Iran to scale back its nuclear program to give the world ample notice of any dash to make the bomb and end a crisis that has threatened to escalate dangerously for 12 years.
The diplomatically isolated Islamic Republic denies wanting nuclear weapons and is calling for the lifting of sanctions that have strangled its lifeblood oil exports and its access to the global financial system.
The threat of new US sanctions, and domestic pressure on Iranian President Hassan Rouhani for his attempts at rapprochement with the West, all but rule out any further extension of the deadline.
A Western diplomat said Monday it was “yes or no” time, adding that the talks remained blocked on three major issues — the length of the accord; the lifting of UN sanctions; and a mechanism to ensure both sides stick to the deal.
Global powers have set a midnight Tuesday deadline to agree to the outlines of a deal that they will then try to finalize by June 30. Only then would Iran receive sanctions relief, diplomats said.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that after 18 months of negotiations, they were in the “endgame.”
Iran’s lead negotiator Abbas Araqchi said they were in the “final phase.”
But Araqchi also said the talks were “very difficult,” while Steinmeier cautioned that the “final meters are the most difficult.”
Even before a deal is sewn up, opponents have been lining up to criticize it, worrying it will not do enough to stop Iran getting the bomb.
“I just don’t understand why we would sign an agreement with a group of people who in my opinion have no intention of keeping their word,” US House Speaker John Boehner told CNN.
Israel is widely believed to be the sole, if undeclared, nuclear-armed power in the Middle East and has long been opposed to any Iran accord.
Saudi Arabia — leading an Arab coalition, which on Monday carried out a fifth straight night of airstrikes on Iran-backed rebels in Yemen — is also uneasy about any US-Iran thawing of ties.
Western diplomats say some areas in a highly complex jigsaw puzzle of an accord are tentatively agreed upon. But they caution there is a long way to go.
One said Sunday that Iran had “more or less” agreed to slash the number of its centrifuge enrichment machines from 20,000 to 6,000 and to ship abroad most of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium.
This would make it a much more lengthy process to further purify these stocks to weapons-grade.
Iranian officials dismissed the numbers as “speculation,” with Araqchi ruling out sending the stocks abroad, although he said “other options” were being examined.
This could include diluting low-enriched uranium or converting it to another form.
But, nevertheless, Iranian officials have expressed guarded optimism that a breakthrough may be at hand.
“Getting to an accord is doable. Solutions have been found for numerous questions. We are still working on two or three issues,” Araqchi said.
In addition to scaling down its nuclear program, the powers want Iran’s remaining facilities to be subject to an unprecedented level of inspections by the UN atomic watchdog.
Its underground facility at Fordo would also likely be barred from uranium enrichment, diplomats said, although it might be kept open for research purposes.
The US, EU and others are only prepared to suspend their sanctions, not terminate them, and in a phased manner in order to ensure that Iran does not violate the deal.
The issue of UN Security Council sanctions is particularly tricky.
Araqchi said Sunday there must be a “precise framework” for lifting sanctions. The duration of any deal — the US wants at least 10 and possibly up to 15 years — is also a point of contention.
Friday, March 27, 2015

By REUTERS \03/27/2015 16:59| The Jerusalem Post| 


Major powers and Iran were pushing each other for concessions on Friday ahead of an end-March deadline for a preliminary nuclear deal, with Tehran demanding an immediate end to sanctions and freedom to continue sensitive atomic research, officials said.

Tehran and six major powers - the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China - are meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, to hammer out a political framework accord by the end of this month that would lay the foundations for a full deal by June 30.

Under a final settlement, Tehran would halt sensitive nuclear work for at least a decade and in exchange, international financial and oil sanctions on Iran would be lifted. This would aim to end the country's 12-year nuclear standoff with the West and reduce the risk of war in the Middle East.

While all sides agree they have been inching closer to a deal, there are major disagreements that have prevented a resolution.

Tehran insists on the freedom to continue research on advanced centrifuges, machines that purify uranium for use in nuclear power plants or, if very highly enriched, in weapons, at an underground facility, and the immediate lifting of all UN sanctions and the most severe US and European Union sanctions.

"There has been massive progress on all the issues," a senior Iranian official told Reuters. "There are still disputes over two issues - R&D (research and development) and UN sanctions."

A Western official close to the talks confirmed that from his side, centrifuge research and enrichment in general remained the most difficult unresolved issue: "The essential element for us is R&D, and enrichment."

The United States and European partners are reluctant to allow Iran to operate centrifuges at the Fordo enrichment site, Western officials said, adding that the issue was unresolved.

An Iranian government website said in November that Washington could let Iran keep some 6,000 early-generation centrifuges, down from nearly 10,000 now in operation out of under 20,000 installed.

After meeting US Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told reporters outside the 19th century hotel on the banks of Lake Geneva where the talks are taking place that it was unclear if there would be a deal in the coming days.

"The negotiations are difficult and complicated and there are highs and lows," Zarif said. "We think an agreement is still possible but when is another story. Our feeling is that we certainly will be able to reach an agreement, but that will need political will on the other side."

Zarif added that the issue of the Saudi-led military operations against Yemen's Houthi fighters, which Tehran has backed, had come up on the sidelines, though the Lausanne talks were exclusively focused on the nuclear issue.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani spoke with his French, Russian, British and Chinese counterparts on Thursday in an attempt to break the impasse. He also sent a letter to the leaders of all six powers, including US President Barack Obama, though officials said the letter did not suggest Tehran was ready to compromise.

Western officials said the main problem remains Tehran's refusal to offer serious concessions. Iranians say the same thing about the six and accuse the French of taking the hardest line.

They also said there was no guarantee a deal would be clinched by the deadline, but several foreign ministers are due to arrive in Lausanne this weekend.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, whose country has been making the most stringent demands on Iran according to negotiators, will arrive on Saturday. His British and Russian counterparts have also confirmed they will join the talks.

If there is a political framework agreement in the coming days, the US and European delegations want it to be as specific as possible, including figures for permissible numbers of centrifuges Tehran could operate, uranium stockpiles and other sensitive technical issues.

Further technical details would be included in annexes to be agreed before July 1.

"We are not messing about here," a Western diplomat said. "If there is a deal it won't be a vague understanding that collapses as soon as we leave. If there is a political framework agreement it will have the broad parameters of the issues even if, given the complexities surrounding these talks, it may mean that some issues are not explained in detail."

The six powers want the limits on the most sensitive aspects of Iran's nuclear program to be in place for at least a decade followed by years of intrusive inspections by the UN nuclear watchdog.

They also want to be certain Tehran would need at least one year to produce enough high enriched uranium for a weapon should the Iranians decide to produce one. Iran denies having any nuclear weapons ambitions.

Israel, Saudi Arabia, France and the US Congress have all raised concerns that the Obama administration might be willing to conclude a deal that would allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapons capability in the future.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

03/24/2015 16:58| The Jerusalem Post| 


Eight members of the House of Representatives announced the formation of a task-force Tuesday aimed with the challenge of combating anti-Semitism. The forming members will serve as co-chairs of the force and work to minimize the proliferation of anti-Semitic acts across the globe.

"Around the world, we are witnessing an alarming rise of anti-Semitism that is dangerous and complex. Over the past few years, Jewish schools, synagogues, and even homes and property have been targets of anti-Semitic violence. Jewish populations are facing increased levels of hatred, frequently under the guise of political differences or other alibis, but in reality it is solely because of their faith," the members said in a statement.

The committee, coined "The Bipartisan Taskforce for Combating anti-Semitism," will work to educate Congress members on this particular form of prejudice and will seek to share solutions that could minimize the phenomenon with the Executive Branch of the government, foreign leaders and civil society organizations.

The task-force hopes to integrate Congress into the fight against anti-Semitism and promote tolerance on an international level. 

"It is the responsibility of everyone who believes in basic universal liberties and freedoms to condemn this trend and work together to root out the hatred which underlies anti-Semitism. We look forward to working with our colleagues in Congress to find innovative solutions that match the 21st century face of this age-old bigotry," their statement read. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

By TOVAH LAZAROFF \03/23/2015 13:23| The Jerusalem Post| 


The US on Monday affirmed that it stands with Israel at the United Nations Human Rights Council and opposes biased actions by that body against the Jewish state.

It therefore plans to continue to oppose the UNHRC mandate to use Agenda Item 7 to debate Israeli violations of human rights at every session. There is no such mandate to repeatedly censure any other country.

“The United States strongly and unequivocally opposes the very existence of Agenda Item 7 and any HRC resolutions that come from it,” the US Ambassador to the UNHRC Keith Harper said on Monday.

He explained that his country had joined Israel in boycotting the debate.

The US has warned that it is reevaluating its stance on Israel at the UN Security Council in response to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pre-election comments that a Palestinian state would not be created while he is premier.

On Monday Harper issued a statement that clarified that the US continues to reject anti-Israel bias at the UNHRC.

“The United States’ approach to the Human Rights Council’s Item 7 has not changed,” Harper said.

“We remain deeply troubled – by this council’s stand-alone agenda item directed against Israel, and by the many repetitive and one-sided resolutions under that agenda item,” he said.

“As was the case last year, the United States will not engage in the debate. Neither will Israel. Instead, we will call a vote, and vote no on Item 7 resolutions,” he said.

Upon taking office in 2009, US President Barack Obama has made eliminating Agenda Item 7 one of his policy objectives.

Since 2013, the US, Israel and many Western countries, including the EU, have refrained from taking the floor during the Agenda Item 7 debate. They have preferred instead to make statements under Agenda Item 4, which discusses human rights violations of all countries.

This public stand against Agenda Item 7 was one of a number of steps that were taken two years ago to sway Israel to reestablish its ties with the UNHRC.

Still on Monday, five EU countries — Sweden, Slovenia, Luxembourg, Ireland and Malta — broke rank with that policy and censured Israel.

Syrian Ambassador Hussam Edin Aaia condemned the attacks on Agenda Item 7.

“It is regrettable that some countries are so hypocritical that they call on the cease condemnation of Israeli practices instead of calling on the occupying forces to cease their crimes and their violations,” Edin Aaia said.

On Monday, during the UNHRC Agenda Item 7 debate, the 47-member body heard seven reports on Israeli human rights violations in the Palestinian territories, more than were issued on any other country during its 28th session. There were two reports on Iran and one on Syria.

The documents focused on last summer’s Gaza war, the continued “blockade” of Gaza, the slow reconstruction effort, Israeli settlement buildings, IDF use of force against Palestinian protesters in the West Bank and Israel’s arrest and treatment of Palestinian minors in detention.

Three of the reports were penned by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, three were by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein and one by UNHRC special investigator Makarim Wibisono.

That report questioned Israel’s adherence to the principle of proportionality and said it may have deliberately targeted civilian areas in Gaza.

The council also issued four resolutions against Israel, including one that called on it to withdraw from the Golan Heights. One affirmed the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and urged all UN bodies to help Palestinians achieve that right.

Another, on settlements, called for Israel to freeze and then reverse its settlement enterprise. It also called on all UN member states “to ensure that they are not taking actions that either recognize or assist the expansion of settlements or construction of the wall in the occupied Palestinian territories, including east Jerusalem.”

The resolution further urged that states insure that businesses domiciled in their territory refrain from contributing to “gross human rights abuses of Palestinians” including refraining from settlement- related activities.

The fourth resolution was fairly broad, listing multiple Israeli human rights violations against Palestinians.

For several hours, country after country protested Israeli violations of human rights in the Palestinian territories, including Algeria, which went so far as to accuse Israel of genocide.

The PLO Ambassador to the UNHRC Ibrahim Khraishi said, “We call on Israel to stop occupation and implore the international community to do its utmost to stop the occupation. Israel can’t act irrespective of international law.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Exhausting lobbying efforts with US, Israel making last­ditch effort with skeptic Paris to head off nuclear agreement 

BY AP AND TIMES OF ISRAEL STAFF March 23, 2015, 6:05 pm | The Times of Israel| 
I ntelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz said a “bad deal” was likely to be the final outcome of nuclear talks between world powers and Iran, as Israel made a last­ditch effort to head off the controversial high­stakes agreement. 
Steinitz, in France for consultations about the emerging agreement, told Reuters that Israel would do all it could to toughen any accord before talks resume this week. “We think it’s going to be a bad, insufficient deal,” Steinitz said before meeting French officials in Paris.
“It seems quite probable it will happen, unfortunately.” Unable to find support from its US allies, Israel is turning to France to help head off what it sees as a bad and dangerous nuclear deal with Iran. Paris has expressed skepticism over the deal being brokered between Iran and the US, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany Speaking also with The Associated Press in Paris, Steinitz, who doubles as strategic affairs minister, said that dialogue with France over Iran’s nuclear program “has proven in the past that it was productive” and makes this week’s last­minute diplomatic mission to Paris worthwhile. 
France played a key role strengthening an interim agreement with Iran in late 2013 that froze key parts of the Islamic republic’s nuclear program in exchange for some relief from Western sanctions. 
The so ­called P5+1 group is attempting to reach a final nuclear deal with Iran before a deadline expires at the end of the month. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Saturday “achieving a deal is possible” by the target date. 
A preliminary accord then is meant to lead to a final deal by the end of June that would crimp Tehran’s nuclear programs in exchange for the lifting of sanctions. Iran claims that its program is only aimed at generating power, but other nations fear it is trying to develop nuclear weapons. Steinitz and Israel’s national security adviser, Yossi Cohen, were meeting with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and other top diplomats involved in the Iran talks. He told the AP only a deal that “dismantles, not simply freezes” Iran’s nuclear program would be acceptable. France has been more hawkish than the US at the negotiating table, reportedly demanding more stringent restrictions than other Western delegations.
Shimon Stein, a former Israeli ambassador to Germany who has been briefed on the P5+1 efforts with Iran, says Steinitz’s trip to France is a natural course of action given Israel’s opposition and the way the talks have been progressing. He said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to Congress March 3 essentially exhausted the American option for Israel, and it is now trying to exert its influence against the deal wherever that is possible. Against a perception that the Americans are rushing to a deal and willing to cut corners to do so, he said France has become a potential ally from Israel’s perspective, supplanting Britain as the most hawkish European country regarding Iran.
“It’s only natural that given Netanyahu’s concern of a deal with Iran that he would turn to France,” Stein said. “France is the weak link among the group.” In the interview with AP, Steinitz declined to discuss what would happen if the deal now on the table goes through. “We don’t have a plan B, we only have a plan A and this is to try to prevent a bad deal with Iran or at least to try to make it more reasonable and to close some of the gaps and loopholes that made it even worse,” he said. In Tehran Monday, an Iranian nuclear negotiator urged world powers to find a “common position” to achieve a “balanced” final nuclear deal. Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said Iran saw a lack of coordination among the six­nation group at the latest round of talks.
The US and Iran broke off nuclear negotiations in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Friday for consultations but they are to resume the talks Wednesday. Both Iran and the US have reported substantial progress in the talks but also say gaps remain. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Saturday that “there is nothing that can’t be resolved.”