Israel’s Steinitz says world powers, Iran likely to agree bad nuclear deal

(Reuters) – Israel’s Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Monday it was probable that world powers and Iran would agree a “bad deal” over Iran’s nuclear program, but he would still lobby to toughen any accord before talks resume this week.

“We think it’s going to be a bad, insufficient deal,” Steinitz told Reuters in an interview before meeting French officials in Paris. “It seems quite probable it will happen unfortunately”.

France, the United States and four other world powers suspended talks with Iran in Switzerland on Friday and are to reconvene this week to try to break the deadlock over Tehran’s atomic research and the lifting of sanctions before a March 31 deadline for a framework deal.

 Israel, which is believed to have the Middle East’s only nuclear arsenal, is not a party to the negotiations but feels especially threatened by the possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran.

It has long described France as the negotiating power with views closest to Israel’s and Steinitz is due to speak to France’s top negotiator and President Francois Hollande’s diplomatic adviser later in the day.

“Although we are against a deal in general, until it is completed we will point to specific loopholes and difficulties,” he said.

He said two fundamental issues that need to be toughened up were the number of centrifuges – machines that spin at supersonic speed to increase the concentration of the fissile isotope – and any potential capacity Iran is given to pursue research and development.

“In this (accord) you are getting a robust and complicated deal that enables Iran to preserve capabilities and allow it to remain a threshold nuclear state,” he said.

Iran says that its nuclear program is for peaceful needs only.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier this month that the United States was negotiating a bad deal with Iran that could lead to a “nuclear nightmare” – drawing a rebuke from U.S. President Barack Obama and exposing a deepening U.S.-Israeli rift.

“I don’t believe the U.S. will abandon one of its closest allies, its closest and most democratic ally in the entire Middle East, because we express our differences on the Iran deal,” said Steinitz, who is Netanyahu’s point man on Iran.

By Reuters