JERUSALEM (JWN and agencies)—A senior Israeli official expressed cautious optimism on Wednesday at the previous day’s announcement of upcoming big power talks with Iran about its nuclear program.
The talks would include the five permanent members of the UN Security Council— the United States, Britain, France, Russia, and China—as well as Germany. No date or venue for the talks has been set yet, but they are expected to begin within weeks.
“I’m very happy that they are opening discussions,” said Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror. “There will be no one happier than us, and the prime minister said this in his own voice, if it emerges that in these talks Iran will give up on its military nuclear capability,” he told Israel Radio.
Before his Oval Office meeting with President Barack Obama on Monday, Netanyahu demanded that Iran stop enriching uranium to a level higher than 3.5 percent purity, the level required to generate electricity, and that any further enriched uranium be disposed of.
Netanyahu also said Iran must dismantle its underground enrichment facility near the city of Qom, which he considers an attempt to produce weapons grade uranium in what he has called a “zone of immunity” from a possible Israeli air strike.
Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary, Zvi Hauser, told Army Radio that these conditions still hold.
Weapons grade uranium must be enriched to 90 percent purity. Iran has already enriched a quantity of uranium to 20 percent, saying this is for the purpose of producing medical isotopes. However, inspectors of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency last month determined that Iran is engaged in a program to develop nuclear weapons.
IAEA inspectors were twice refused permission to visit the military complex known as Parchin southeast of Tehran, which Western intelligence agencies believe houses Iran’s nuclear-weapons research.
Obama has urged Israel to hold back from a possible preemptive strike at Iran’s nuclear facilities, saying more time is needed for an ever more stringent regime of sanctions to take effect. On the other hand, the president said the US would act militarily if there were no alternative to keeping Iran from becoming a nuclear power. The US does not consider containment an option, Obama said.
In welcoming Iran’s offer of talks, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the big powers seek assurances on “the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program, while respecting Iran’s right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy.”
She notified Iranian officials that the big powers are prepared to begin a “sustained process of dialogue aimed at producing concrete results. Our overall goal remains a comprehensive, negotiated, long-term solution which restores international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program,” Ashton wrote Saeed Jalili, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council.
Ashton warned the Iranians in her letter that they must “engage seriously and without preconditions.”
National Security Adviser Amidror expressed caution that Iran might not negotiate in good faith, and might be offering to talk as a smoke screen behind which to continue developing a nuclear bomb during extended talks.
“It should be clear that without a real military alternative, the Iranians will not relent in the negotiations. And without there being a serious alternative, they will not enter the negotiations, and in any event there has to be readiness for the negotiations failing,” Amidror said.
The Obama administration cautiously welcomed the invitation for talks, but said Iran must take concrete steps to prove its good faith.
“We will have a pretty good sense fairly quickly as to how serious they are,” Obama told reporters shortly after the talks were announced. He called on Iran to agree to steps that would “provide the world with assurance that they’re not pursuing a nuclear weapon. And they know how to do that.”