Easing Iran sanctions would be tragic, warns Netanyahu in Rome
"We have to make sure that Iran cannot produce nuclear weapons, and we can achieve that peacefully," prime minister says ahead of meeting with Kerry • Israel's U.N. envoy urges Security Council: Keep up pressure until Iran agrees to play by the rules.
Gideon Allon and News Agencies
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets his Italian counterpart, Enrico Letta, in Rome on Tuesday
Photo credit: AP
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who left Israel on Tuesday for a two-day visit to Italy, met with Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta to discuss current sanctions on Iran and the ongoing peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
A week after the conclusion of a two-day negotiations session between Iran and the West over Tehran's controversial nuclear program, which sparked reports that the West was considering easing economic sanctions, Netanyahu told his Italian counterpart that if Iran succeeded in evading sanctions, "it will be tragic, because we have now the way to make sure that they don't have atomic weapons capability."
Netanyahu was welcomed at the Italian government seat in Rome's historic center with an official ceremony ahead of a closed-door meeting.
The talks come ahead of a meeting between Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State Kerry in the Italian capital on Wednesday.
Addressing reporters upon his arrival on Tuesday, Netanyahu said Iran's nuclear program would be a key topic during his visit.
"We are interested, all of us, in seeing peace and stability in this region. This is one of the reasons, one of the two main reasons, that I came here to speak to Secretary Kerry tomorrow," Netanyahu said.
"Obviously to discuss the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks, but equally also to touch on something that could affect these peace talks in a way that would be overwhelming, overwhelmingly good or overwhelmingly bad.
"If Iran succeeds in its quest to achieve nuclear weapons, that will be very, very bad. If you track what Iran has been doing since 2006, it had about 170 centrifuges. By the end of this year it will have about 20,000 centrifuges, so it's gone more than a 100 percent increase, more than a hundred-time increase of centrifuges that are used for one purpose only, and that is to advance their nuclear weapons program," he said.
Netanyahu said he believed timing was critical and maintaining a firm stance was essential.
"They can go right from low enrichment, from 3.5%, to 90% in weeks," Netanyahu said.
"They shouldn't be allowed to do that. I stress that because our quest for peace, our desire to see a change in the Middle East, the desire that we and you, Israel and Italy, share, we and many of the Arabs share, could be overwhelmed if Iran succeeds at this point, when it's so close to economic collapse, when it's so close to the point where the sanctions are working.
"We have to make sure that they cannot produce nuclear weapons and we can achieve that peacefully. This is something that I will continue to talk about with you and I surely will talk about it with John Kerry tomorrow, at great length."
Kerry, on a European tour to discuss the situation in Syria, arrived in Rome on Tuesday evening. He was scheduled to meet Letta on Wednesday morning ahead of his talks with Netanyahu.
Meanwhile, in his trimonthly speech before the Security Council, Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Ron Prosor asked the council members not to force Israel to face Iran alone.
"Let us not repeat the mistakes of the past and leave a minority to stand alone against a common enemy," he said.
Prosor demanded continued sanctions, saying, "The Iranian economy is crumbling under the weight of crippling sanctions. And this pressure is getting results. And yet some states have suggested easing the sanctions.
"This suggestion reminds me of a boxer who is clinging to the ropes in the final round. Give him a moment to rest and he will turn around and attack you with more vigor. We must keep up the pressure until Iran agrees to play by the rules."
Iran nuke overture: More a promise than an offer
Iran nuclear talks ended last week with enthusiastic pronouncements of progress from negotiators. Tehran's willingness to engage is a big step, but diplomats familiar with the meeting also say significant gaps remain between what the Iranians offered and what the six negotiating powers seek to reduce fears that Iran wants to build nuclear weapons.
Details of the Iranian offer remain confidential, but two diplomats agreed to give The Associated Press some insight. They demanded anonymity because they are under orders not to discuss the issue.
The diplomats said the chief advance achieved at Geneva was not detailed Iranian concessions, but Tehran's apparent willingness to engage the six powers on their concerns -- a departure from previous Iranian refusal to even discuss most of the other side's demands.
Differences remain over the size and output of Iran's enrichment program, which can create both reactor fuel and weapons-grade material suitable for a nuclear bomb.
Abbas Araghchi, Iran's deputy foreign minister, refused to confirm the characterization of negotiations, saying only that his country "introduced the framework for the talks" during the meeting and that they were welcomed. He said that Iran and the six powers had agreed to keep details confidential.
Iran, which denies any interest in such weapons, currently runs over 10,000 centrifuges that have created tons of fuel-grade material that can be further enriched to arm nuclear warheads. That is a relatively slow process with such reactor-grade material.
But Tehran also has nearly 440 pounds (200 kilograms) of higher-enriched uranium in a form that can be turned into weapons much more quickly. Experts say 550 pounds (250 kilograms) of 20% enriched uranium are needed to produce a single warhead.
Following is a list of the demands made on Iran by the six powers -- the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany -- and what the diplomats say Tehran offered at the Geneva talks:
• Suspension of enrichment above reactor fuel grate levels: The six powers want Iran to stop enriching uranium to 20%. The diplomats say Iran offered to halt 20% enrichment at the Geneva talks, which ended Wednesday. Iran had already proposed this at the round preceding the Geneva talks.
• Enrichment at Fordo: The six powers demand that enrichment operations at Fordo, an underground bunker believed to be impervious to air strikes, be disabled to the point where they would be difficult to restart. The diplomats say Iran offered only to discuss the status of Fordo.
• Limits on all Iranian enrichment: The six powers want a cap on how much enriched material Iran can produce and stockpile. With some of Iran's enriching centrifuges more efficient than others, this would mean tough negotiations on the number and type of machines it has installed and is operating. The diplomats say Iran has signaled that it is open to discussing numbers.
• Uranium stockpiles: The six powers want Tehran to ship out most of its supply of 20% enriched uranium or blend it down into reactor fuel. They also want Iran to agree to stricter U.N. supervision of its lower-grade enriched uranium stockpile. The diplomats said the Iranians did not substantially address these demands.
Additionally, the diplomats said the Iranians had agreed to discuss concerns about a reactor that experts say will produce enough plutonium for one or two bombs a year once completed. The U.S. and its allies have called on Tehran to stop construction of that reactor.
Araghchi predicted Monday the nuclear talks could take as long as a year in step-by-step measures, with the first milestone coming in three to six months and negotiations concluding within the year.
Such as a timetable, however, could bring pressure on Washington from Israel and others that fear Iran could be seeking to buy time while making nuclear advances. The diplomats said no formal schedule of any deal was discussed last week.
In contrast to the overture on nuclear efforts, hard-line factions in Iran have increased their bluster. They hold sway over the pace and direction of the nuclear program and the West could grow increasingly skeptical about the country's outreach.
On Tuesday, Gen. Masoud Jazayri, the deputy chief of staff of Iran's armed forces, issued a veiled warning to the negotiators representing Tehran at the talks.
"Iranian diplomats will never give in to the oppressive West," Jazayri was quoted as saying by the semi-official Fars new agency. "The Iranian people will carefully watch what their own representatives and the other party at the talks say and do."
Experts from both sides are to meet at a yet unannounced date before the next round of talks in Geneva Nov. 7-8. The diplomats said that only if that meeting makes progress in nailing down concrete issues to be negotiated at the Geneva talks can last week's round be called a success.