Israel Doubtful of Iran Nuke Deal by Deadline

Saturday, 05 Jul 2014 02:37 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Iran is maintaining a "hard line" at talks in Vienna to hammer out a nuclear agreement, and Israeli leaders do not believe world powers will be able to forge a deal by the late July deadline.

"The Iranians came without willingness to compromise, but with a desire to exploit this stage to soften and improve the opening positions of the other side," Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz told Reuters, reports The Jerusalem Post.

Steinitz, speaking on the second day of what may be the final round of talks in the discussions, led a high-level delegation to Washington on Monday, where he met with Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns and Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman.

He said his visit shows how important the talks are for Israel, "more even than the serious terrorism from Gaza and the murder of the youths and the problems on the northern border with Lebanon and Syria."

Israel has been skeptical all along that diplomacy and sanctions would force Iran to scale back its nuclear capabilities. Israel has threatened to attack Iran's sites, while Iran denies it is seeking weapons-grade nuclear capabilities.

On Thursday, though, Western diplomats reported that Iran had reduced demands for the size of its future nuclear enrichment program in talks with world powers. Western governments want further compromise from Tehran.

The diplomats agreed, though, that it is going be hard to wrap up the deal by the July 20 deadline.

Tehran's shift relates to the main sticking point in the talks — the number of uranium enrichment centrifuges Iran can maintain in a deal in exchange for a gradual end of sanctions.

Ending the decade-long dispute with Iran is seen as central to defusing tension and averting a new Middle East war.

"Iran has reduced the number of centrifuges it wants but the number is still unacceptably high," a Western diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity and without further detail.

A senior U.S. administration official told reporters that Iran's future enrichment capacity under any deal would have to be "a fraction of what they currently have."

And Wednesday, a senior Iranian official told Reuters Tehran has refused to back down from its demand to maintain 50,000 operational centrifuges, a figure Western officials say is too high for a strictly civilian nuclear energy program.

Iran, a major oil producer, says it plans a future network of nuclear power plants to diversify its energy supply.

Israel believes Iran should dismantle its uranium enrichment program, and says the West has already conceded by not insisting on that.

If there is an agreement Israel finds unsatisfactory, Steinitz said his country is "keeping all options open. We will have to see what the deal is, to what extent it is good, to what extent it is bad, if it meets the minimum demands or not."

Israel is also ready to meet requests from Jordan to help fight off Islamist insurgents such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) if it comes to that, but believes Jordan can defend itself, Steinitz said.

Jordan and Egypt are the only two Arab countries with full peace treaties with Israel. If Israel provides assistance to Jordan, Steinitz said, that could include sending troops or arms, but he thinks that will be unlikely.

"If, God forbid, there is a need, if such a request comes, if there is an emergency situation, then of course Israel will extend all help required," said Steinitz. "Israel will not allow groups like ISIS to take over Jordan."

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