Israel said on Tuesday that it would "embrace a genuine diplomatic solution” that would bring about the dismantling of Iran’s potential nuclear weapons program but warned world powers against any partial agreement and urged them not to ease the sanctions on Iran prematurely.
As nuclear talks began in Geneva, Israel’s security cabinet issued a detailed statement laying out its case for bringing Iran’s uranium enrichment to an end and saying, "Sanctions must not be eased when they are so close to achieving their intended purpose.”
Iran insists its nuclear program is intended for civilian purposes, but Israel views it as a threat to its existance.
"Israel does not oppose Iran having a peaceful nuclear energy program,” the statement said. "But as has been demonstrated in many countries, from Canada to Indonesia, peaceful programs do not require uranium enrichment or plutonium production. Iran’s nuclear weapons program does.”
In a speech at the opening of the winter session of the Israeli Parliament on Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it would be "a historic mistake” to relax the pressure on Iran now.
"I will tell you something that goes against the accepted view: Easing the pressure will not strengthen moderate trends in Iran,” he said. "On the contrary, it will strengthen the uncompromising views of the real ruler of Iran, the Ayatollah Khamenei, and will be seen as a significant victory by him.”
Mr. Netanyahu was referring to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, who has the final word on Iran’s nuclear program.
Projecting the same skepticism about the motives of Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, that he displayed in his speech at the United Nations last month and in numerous interviews since then, Mr. Netanyahu added, "Iran is ready to give up very little and to receive a very lot” at the talks.
Mr. Netanyahu, who considers Iran to be Israel’s most dangerous enemy, has been particularly outspoken in his rejection of Mr. Rouhani’s assertions that Iran has no nuclear weapons aspirations from its uranium enrichment activities. Mr. Netanyahu has been especially critical of Mr. Rouhani, repeatedly describing him as a "wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
But a senior Israeli minister struck a less cynical and abrasive tone than usual in a briefing with foreign media representatives in Jerusalem on Monday, saying he was not so pessimistic about the chances of success.
"We want the Geneva talks to succeed,” said Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s minister of international relations and of intelligence and strategic affairs. "We don’t close the door to a diplomatic solution — on the contrary, on the condition that there will be a sufficient and satisfactory solution,” he said.
Mr. Steinitz cited talks that were held over the last decade with North Korea as a bad model, and pointed to those with Libya as one to be emulated. That, he said, is because the agreements with North Korea "were all about freezing the situation” and improving inspections, while negotiations with Libya were focused on dismantling its capacity to enrich uranium.
Mr. Steinitz also emphasized what he called the importance of maintaining the sanctions, suggesting that the economic weapon was as effective as a military threat. Western restrictions on Iran’s banks, oil exports and related industries have taken a steep toll on the Iranian economy.
"Iran needs this agreement urgently,” Mr. Steinitz said. "If it is made crystal clear to them that if they want to save their economy they need to give up their nuclear program, at the end of the day they might do it.”
"Of course a credible military threat would increase the chances of success,” he continued. "Maybe you can succeed without it. Let’s wait and see.” But he added, "So far the Iranian statements are not extremely encouraging.”