The Obama administration announced late Saturday night a breakthrough preliminary multi-nation deal with Iran to halt its nuclear capabilities thanks to multilateral negotiations, but Israel and other Gulf states are already sharply critical of the agreement.
Secretary of State John Kerry, who had led a previous recent attempt to close a short-term deal with Iran only to fail in the face of resistance from U.S. allies France and Israel, arrived in Geneva to close on the agreement that has been in the works far longer than previously thought, according to The Associated Press.
“The discussions were kept hidden even from America's closest friends, including its negotiating partners and Israel, until two months ago, and that may explain how the nuclear accord appeared to come together so quickly after years of stalemate and fierce hostility between Iran and the West,” the AP reported, adding that France and Israel’s reaction in the previous attempt at a deal could have to do with the fact they felt left out of the U.S.-Iran talks.
Senior White House officials, speaking on background during a conference call late Saturday night, defended the agreement against criticism from Israel, which has denounced it as a bad deal and again threatened the use of force against Iran. “Israel has expressed concern that Iran could use the cover of negotiations to advance their program,” said one official. “We are halting their program in its tracks and rolling back elements of the program while we test whether we can reach an agreement.”
Another White House official said the temporary deal, which will lift some sanctions against Iran, addresses Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s concerns over Iran’s growing stockpile of enriched uranium.
“This would neutralize that stockpile, eliminating one of the most important paths that Iran could have towards a breakout to a bomb,” the official said. “We understand and appreciate why Israel is particularly skeptical about Iran, given the threats that have been made about Israel from Tehran. This is not simply about trusting the Iranian government; there are strict verification measures through these intrusive inspections involved in making sure that Iran is meeting its commitments under this agreement.”
But despite a promised phone call with President Barack Obama, Netanyahu told his Cabinet Sunday the six-month deal is a “historic mistake.”
“Today the world became a much more dangerous place because the most dangerous regime in the world made a significant step in obtaining the most dangerous weapons in the world," he said.
One key part of the deal is that it doesn’t recognize a right for Iran to enrich uranium and even calls for the dilution of some enriched uranium to lower levels. Administration officials also emphasized that the lifted sanctions are “temporary, targeted and reversible.”
“If Iran lives up to its obligations and commitments, it will get the benefit of its bargain, but at the same time, we will not turn a blind eye to sanctions evasion, circumvention, or any other attempts to take advantage of this situation by anyone or any person or any entity anywhere,” said one of the White House officials. “Iran is not back in business and anyone who makes the mistake of thinking so I think will be met with some serious consequences.”
The White House, which is hailing the temporary agreement as its most significant achievement on this front in decades, has sought to make progress with Iran since Obama made it an international priority during his first campaign for president. But he’ll have a hard domestic sell on Capitol Hill, as lawmakers are already speaking out against the deal.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and recently gave a foreign policy speech where he criticized the concept of hawks and doves, came out strongly against the deal.