Israeli officials came out strongly against the agreement in principle announced today by Iran and six world powers designed to ensure Iran does not develop nuclear weapons.
But Jewish leaders and members of Congress here took a more cautious approach, saying the agreement in principle — which promises full and complete international inspection of known and suspected nuclear facilities, reduces the number of centrifuges by two-thirds and lengthens Iran’s breakout time for developing a nuclear weapon from the current two to three months to at least one year — had to be carefully reviewed and safeguards implemented to ensure Iran’s compliance.
“This is a bad framework that will lead to a bad and dangerous agreement,” a senior Israeli official told reporters.
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said the key to the proposed agreement will be its implementation and “safeguards” to ensure the Iran complies with the accord.
“Iran has a long history of cheating and obfuscating,” he said. “Remember, Iran did not allow IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] inspectors into sites it had earlier agreed to give them access to.”
The World Jewish Congress also questioned whether Iran could be trusted to adhere to the preliminary agreement.
“Iran must prove beyond doubt that it is willing to implement all aspects of the agreement prior to the lifting of any sanctions,” Ronald Lauder, WJC president, said in a statement.
“Any failure by Tehran to honor the details of the agreement in full, or any renewed attempts to pursue a covert nuclear weapons program, must immediately trigger new, stronger sanctions and render any agreement null and void.”
“A nuclear-armed Iran would pose a grave threat to the wider world and trigger a dangerous arms race in the Middle East,” he added. “We must not let that happen by putting too much faith in this regime.”
The Republican Jewish Coalition said Congress must now begin “robust debate on the parameters” of the agreement to analyze its implications and ramifications and ensure Iran’s nuclear program is totally transparent.
“This is a foundational document and is not yet a verifiable deal,” it said. “It is troubling that the Iranians are so elated with this agreement. Those worried about a nuclear Iran must remain vigilant as centrifuges keep spinning and enriching uranium and yet another stage of negotiations is poised to begin.”
Rep. Steve Israel (D-L.I.) said in a statement: “I’ve been skeptical about a deal with Iran. The details deserve and must get a vote by the U.S. Congress. Until the full details are provided to Congress on June 30th, you can keep me in the ‘highly skeptical’ column.”
Rep. Elliott Engel (D-Bronx), the senior Democrat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said Congress must now “take a close look at the details [of the proposed deal] to determine if the compromises made are worth the dismantling of years of pressure built on Iran. As I’ve said again and again, no deal is better than a bad deal, and we need to ensure that this agreement forecloses any pathway to a bomb.”
He added: “Nothing in this agreement should prevent the United States from taking action to prevent Iran from sowing further chaos and violence against American interests.”
J Street, the pro-Israel, pro-peace lobby group working towards a two-state solution, issued a statement welcoming the framework agreement and said the next several months of negotiations to finalize the terms must “result in an agreement that cuts off each of Iran’s potential pathways to acquiring the fissile material necessary for a nuclear weapon. That agreement must also put in place intrusive inspections and verification methods to ensure that Iran complies with its obligations. We look forward to evaluating the final terms of such an agreement upon or before the June 30, 2015 end of the negotiating period.”
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs said in a statement that supports the Obama administration’s efforts to find a diplomatic solution to quell Iran’s nuclear ambitions. It said there are “many details that must be addressed before a final agreement can be signed, and the JCPA is eager to begin a careful review of this agreement. We take this review process with the utmost seriousness.”
Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s minister of International Relations, told reporters that the world powers and Iran are “detached from reality,” according to the Jerusalem Post.
“At a time when the representatives of the world powers were shaking hands with the Iranians in Lausanne, Iran continues its campaign of occupation and terror in Yemen and throughout the Middle East,” he was quoted as saying.
Steinitz stressed that the Israeli government would continue to oppose agreement, saying more negotiations are needed before a final accord is reached. Until then, he said, “we will continue in our efforts to explain and convince the world in the hopes of preventing a bad deal, or at least introducing changes and improvements.”
Israel’s strong reaction against the proposed agreement follows talk in recent days about possible military action by Israel to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities. Steinitz told Israel Radio that such action is possible, even in the face of opposition from the Obama administration.
“If we have no choice,” he said, “we have no choice. … I don't want to talk about a military option, other than to say that it exists. I just want to say one thing, when we had no choice and needed to attack and destroy the reactor in Iraq [in 1981], that was against the U.S. position.
“When talking about our national security, it is our responsibility and duty to defend the state, and if the world has other ideas or illusions or agreements that do not ensure our security, we will need to weigh very carefully what to do.”
But in a statement in the White House Rose Garden, President Barak Obama insisted that if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “is looking for the most effective way to ensure Iran doesn’t get a nuclear weapon, this is the best option.”
Maj. Gen. Nimrod Sheffer, the head of the Planning Directorate for the Israel Defense Forces, has also refused to rule out the military option.
“Since it happened in the past, I have no reason to believe it won’t happen again,” he told the Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom. “If ultimately an agreement is in fact signed, we will have to ask ourselves, ‘OK, what are we going to do with this?’ If someone builds a bomb and at the same time declares that Israel has no right to exist, we have to think about how to respond.”
He added that Israel would not hesitate to take military action if its existence was at stake.