JERUSALEM, ISRAEL (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — Israel on Sunday harshly criticized the international community's nuclear deal with Iran, accusing the world of "self-delusion" and saying the first-stage agreement would not halt what it says is Tehran's pursuit of nuclear weapons capability.
Israel believes Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon, and in the weeks leading up to Sunday's agreement, had warned the emerging deal was insufficient. It had called for increased pressure on Iran, and warned that any relief from economic sanctions would make Iran less willing to compromise down the road.
Israel's Cabinet minister for intelligence issues, Yuval Steinitz, said the last-minute changes to the deal were "far from satisfactory" and did nothing to change Israel's position. "This agreement is still bad and will make it more difficult than before to achieve an appropriate solution in the future," he said. Instead, he compared it to a failed 2007 international deal with North Korea and said it "is more likely to bring Iran closer to having a bomb."
"Israel cannot participate in the international celebration, which is based on Iranian deception and (international) self-delusion," said Steinitz, whose responsibilities include monitoring Iran's nuclear program.
The exact details of Sunday's deal, hammered out in Geneva between six world powers and Iran, were not immediately known. Israel was not a participant in the talks but remained in close touch with the U.S. and other allies during the negotiations.
In a statement, the White House called the nuclear agreement an "initial, six-month step." It said the deal limits Iran's existing stockpiles of enriched uranium, a key ingredient in making a nuclear bomb. It said the accord also curbs the number and capabilities of the centrifuges used to enrich and would limit Iran's ability to produce "weapons-grade plutonium" from a reactor in the advanced stages of construction. It also said there would be "intrusive monitoring" of Iran's nuclear program.
The statement also played down the extent of the relief from international sanctions, noting the "key oil, banking and financial sanctions architecture remains in place." It said any relief would be revoked if Iran did not keep its commitments.
Israel had called for far tougher measures, saying that stockpiles of enriched uranium should be removed from the country, all enrichment activity be halted and that the plutonium-producing facility be dismantled.
There was no immediate response from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had spent the past two weeks furiously lobbying against the deal. But an official in his office called Sunday's deal a "bad agreement."
"It grants Iran exactly what it wanted, a significant easing of sanctions while preserving the most significant parts of its nuclear program," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity pending a formal statement from Netanyahu. The prime minister was expected to address his Cabinet later Sunday.
Israel considers a nuclear-armed Iran a threat to its very survival, citing Iranian calls for Israel's destruction, its development of long-range missiles capable of striking Israel and Iran's support for hostile militant groups along Israel's borders. It dismisses Iranian claims that the nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
Israel has repeatedly threatened to carry out a military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities if it concludes international diplomacy has failed to curb the Iranian nuclear program. But Israeli officials all but acknowledged that an Israeli attack is not in the works, and that the focus would now turn to influencing the final deal.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Israel Radio that the deal ushers in a "new reality" in the Middle East and predicted it sparking a nuclear arms race in the region. "Those that support this agreement only say one good thing about it, and that's that we win time en route to a final agreement," Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin told Channel 2 TV. "Our main activity is now directed at a very clear destination — what will be in the final agreement."
Deputy Israeli Defense Minister Danny Danon, a senior member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party, indicated a military strike is still an option. "It goes without saying that all options remain on the table and that Israel has the capability — and the responsibility — to defend itself using any means necessary," he said.