By Jeffrey Heller
JERUSALEM, Dec 4 – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday he will discuss with Donald Trump the West’s “bad” nuclear deal with Iran after the U.S. president-elect enters the White House.
During the U.S. election campaign, Trump, a Republican, called last year’s nuclear pact a “disaster” and “the worst deal ever negotiated”. But the businessman-turned-politician has also said it would be hard to overturn an agreement enshrined in a United Nations resolution.
“Israel is committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. That has not changed and will not change. As far as President-elect Trump, I look forward to speaking to him about what to do about this bad deal,” Netanyahu told the Saban Forum, a conference on the Middle East, in Washington, via satellite from Jerusalem.
Netanyahu has been a harsh critic of the nuclear deal, a legacy foreign policy achievement for President Barack Obama. But he had largely refrained from attacking the pact in recent months as Israeli and U.S. negotiators finalised a 10-year, $38 billion military aid package for Israel.
Before the nuclear agreement, Netanyahu, a conservative, further strained relations with the White House by addressing the U.S. Congress in 2015 and cautioning against agreeing to the pact.
The Obama administration promoted the deal as a way to suspend Tehran’s suspected drive to develop atomic weapons. In return Obama, a Democrat, agreed to lifting most sanctions against Iran. Iran denies ever having considered developing nuclear arms.
“I opposed the deal because it doesn’t prevent Iran from getting nukes; it paves the way for Iran to get nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said in Sunday’s question-and-answer session.
Under the deal, Iran committed to reducing the number of its centrifuges by two-thirds, capping its level of uranium enrichment well below the level needed for bomb-grade material, reducing its enriched uranium stockpile from around 10,000 kg to 300 kg for 15 years, and submitting to international inspections to verify its compliance.
“The problem isn’t so much that Iran will break the deal, but that Iran will keep it because it just can walk in within a decade, and even less … to industrial-scale enrichment of uranium to make the core of an arsenal of nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu told the forum.
“So the problem how to deal with this deal is something that I will discuss with … President Trump when he takes office.”
Netanyahu telephoned Trump after his election victory in November and said the president-elect had invited him to meet in the United States “at the first opportunity”. The two talked in New York in September, when Netanyahu also saw then-Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
“He (Trump) has a clear vision of America’s role in dominance in the world. I don’t think he’s going to put the world aside, I don’t see that at all. In fact, I think the contrary is true,” Netanyahu said on Sunday.