Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Iran must be forced to halt its nuclear program through tougher sanctions and stiffer demands than those presented in two rounds of talks conducted with world powers.
Netanyahu, speaking yesterday at a defense conference in Tel Aviv, said he has no doubt that Iran aims to build a nuclear bomb. He repeated previous calls that it stop all uranium enrichment, get rid of nuclear material already produced and dismantle its underground facility near Qom.
“Only an explicit commitment by Iran to accept all these demands and explicit confirmation that this has been done can stop the nuclear program,” Netanyahu said at the conference of the Institute for National Security Studies. “This is not what is being required of Iran today.”
Iran and six world powers -- China, Russia, Germany, France, Britain and the U.S. -- agreed on May 24 to hold a new round of talks about the Persian Gulf nation’s nuclear program next month in Moscow, after failing to bridge differences during two days of negotiations in Baghdad.
It will mark the third attempt in three months to answer international worries that Iran’s atomic energy program may be a cover for secret weapons work, and to address Iran’s concerns about sanctions and diplomatic isolation.
Israel, which says Iran wants to destroy the Jewish state, has threatened a military strike if negotiations and sanctions fail. U.S. intelligence officials say Iranian leaders haven’t made a decision on whether to seek a weapons capability.
“Not only do we need to tighten the sanctions on Iran, we also need to toughen the demands from Iran and see their implementation,” Netanyahu said. “Iran might temporarily halt enrichment to 20 percent but the test will be to see if they agree to halt all enrichment.”
He said international demands on Iran have been “reduced” instead of toughened.
Concerned about Israel’s reaction to the lack of progress made at last week’s meetings with Iran, the Obama administration sent Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman to meet with Netanyahu in Jerusalem May 25 “to reaffirm our unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security,” according to an e-mail from the State Department.
Iran is under U.S. and European Union sanctions on oil, banking, insurance and trade that have hobbled its economy. The six major powers want Iran to curtail uranium enrichment as a step toward building trust in negotiations. Under international safeguards, Iran now enriches uranium to 3.5 percent purity for civilian reactors and to 19.75 percent for the production of medical isotopes.
The Israeli prime minister also challenged Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to seize the “unique opportunity” of Netanyahu’s strengthened government coalition to restart negotiations on a peace agreement.
Netanyahu currently leads a coalition government that includes 94 members of the 120-seat Knesset after signing an agreement with the Kadima party, which previously led the opposition with the biggest delegation in parliament.
Netanyahu said the Middle East has become more dangerous since the Arab Spring and Israel needs “surplus power” to maintain its military edge over hostile neighbors.
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