JERUSALEM (REUTERS) - Israel urged world powers resuming nuclear talks with Iran on Tuesday to demand a full rollback of Tehran’s atomic programme and not to ease economic sanctions prematurely.
A rare statement by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet, whose deliberations are usually secret, did not repeat his past veiled threats to attack Iran as a last resort to stop it developing a nuclear bomb.
But the announcement said the cabinet had “adopted unanimously” his long-standing call that Iranian uranium enrichment and plutonium facilities be shut down and all fissile material shipped abroad.
Any Israeli attack on Iran would need security cabinet approval, and the unanimous vote was a key show of support by top ministers for Mr Netanyahu, who has pledged that Israel would never allow Tehran to obtain nuclear weapons. Tehran says its nuclear work is focused on generating electricity and other peaceful projects.
“It would be an historic mistake not to take full advantage of the sanctions, by making concessions before ensuring the dismantling of Iran’s nuclear weapons program,” said the Israeli statement, which was issued first in English for foreign consumption. A Hebrew version came out an hour and a half later.
The two-day Geneva talks between Iran and the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany are widely seen as the best chance in years to end deadlock in a decade-old nuclear dispute that could otherwise trigger a new Middle East war.
Iran is seeking relief from crippling international sanctions but world powers want it to move swiftly to allay concern that nuclear projects it insists are peaceful mask a drive to get the bomb. Both sides says any deal would be complex and take time.
“These negotiations begin at a time when the Iranian regime is under great pressure because of the sanctions and is desperately trying to have them removed,” the seven-minister security cabinet said. “Sanctions must not be eased when they are so close to achieving their intended purpose.”
The Israelis accuse Iran of stalling while it builds up the capability to produce nuclear weaponry.
“Iran believes it can get by with cosmetic concessions that would not significantly impede its path to developing nuclear weapons, concessions that could be reversed in weeks. In exchange, Iran demands an easing of the sanctions, which have taken years to put in place,” the Israeli statement said.
“The international community must reject Iran’s attempts to reach a deal that leaves it with the capability to develop nuclear weapons and must insist upon a genuine and sustainable agreement,” it added, saying Israel would support such a deal.
Though widely assumed to have the Middle East’s atomic arsenal, Israel lacks the conventional forces to deliver lasting damage to Iran’s far-flung and well-defended nuclear sites.
Washington, while not ruling out last-resort military action, has cautioned its Israeli ally against lashing out unilaterally. At least one member of the security cabinet, centrist Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, previously balked at Mr Netanyahu’s heated rhetoric about the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran.