Not Part Of Talks, Israel Still Tries To Sway Iran Nuclear Talks

Israel is keeping a close eye on the Geneva talks on Iran's nuclear program. Israel is not party to the negotiations but its leaders say they have a big stake in the outcome. A cabinet statement Tuesday warned of "cosmetic [Iranian] concessions that could be reversed in weeks. In exchange, Iran demands an easing of the sanctions, which have taken years to put in place."

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In Geneva today, Iran made a proposal to end the standoff over its nuclear program. Western diplomats involved in the talks called the offer useful. While the details have not been made public, two things are clear: Iran hopes a deal will bring relief from crippling economic sanctions, and Israel - which is not a party to the negotiations, but insists it has big stake in the outcome - remains skeptical of Iranian diplomacy.

From Jerusalem, NPR's Emily Harris reports.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: For months, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been pushing the international community to keep economic sanctions in place until Iran proves it's not pursuing a bomb. This week, as world powers gathered in Geneva to negotiate with Iran, Netanyahu pressed his message again.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: (Through translator) It would be an historic mistake to relax the pressure on Iran now, a moment before the sanctions achieve their goal. There can be no giving in at this time and the pressure must be continued.

HARRIS: That was yesterday in a speech to the Israeli Parliament. Netanyahu went on to reiterate that a nuclear Iran should worry the world, not just Israel alone.

NETANYAHU: (Through translator) Iran is continuing unhindered to develop inter-continental missiles that are capable of carrying nuclear warheads. These missiles can reach all parts of the Middle East, Europe and the U.S., and other parts of the world as well.

HARRIS: Analyst Max Singer, with Israel's BESA Institute, believes a deal may come out of Geneva that would allow Iran to continue to enrich uranium, under the guise of a civilian energy program, but forbid it from designing or building bomb components.

MAX SINGER: The thing about a nuclear bomb is the most important part and the most expensive part, is this uranium or plutonium. But it doesn't work by itself. You have to have a very complicated, advanced mechanism. And those have to be designed and built and maybe tested. And that work of designing and building it, that's done on a very small scale and it's relatively easy to keep secret.

HARRIS: Secret enough, he says, that there would be no way to verify whether Iran has the components to quickly put together a bomb.

SINGER: So from that point of view, Israel would say: They have the bomb. United States and everybody else would look at the question: Do they have any actual physical bombs they could put on an airplane? The answer is no, as far as we know. So therefore they don't have the bomb. That will be the dynamic and I think Israel is stuck.

HARRIS: Israel says it is not opposed to Iran pursuing a civilian nuclear program to produce electricity if that is verifiable by the international community. Israeli Intelligence Minster Yuval Steinitz says if that's really what Iran wants, there's an easy solution.

YUVAL STEINITZ: Iran wants civilian nuclear energy, OK. The world want to be totally confident that Iran is not producing nuclear weapons, or even getting closer to the capacity of producing nuclear weapons. You can combine those two demands very easily. Let Iran produce nuclear electricity but buy the nuclear fuel from other countries.

HARRIS: Iran has said it will not allow any of its enriched uranium to be taken out of the country. Today, Israel's Security Cabinet insisted in a public statement that economic sanctions against Iran must stay in place, until specific steps are taken to dismantle elements of its nuclear program that point to weapons development. The talks in Geneva continue tomorrow.

Emily Harris, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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