JERUSALEM -- Israeli assessments indicate that Iran’s nuclear program has been set back just four weeks as a result of an interim deal designed to limit Iran’s enrichment of uranium, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Monday.
In a speech to a group of American Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said that changes to Iran’s program have been minimal and have had little effect on the time it would take Iran to build a nuclear warhead.
“The sum total that they’ve been set back in time is four weeks,” Netanyahu said. “That’s what Iran has given to the world, which means it’s given practically nothing.”
Netanyahu’s comments came on the eve of a new round of negotiations aimed at preventing Iran from gaining the ability to make a nuclear bomb. Diplomats from five nations, including the United States, will sit down with Iranian representatives in Vienna on Tuesday to begin what is likely to be a long process of drawing up a final agreement.
Iran has always maintained that its nuclear program is strictly for peaceful purposes, such as energy generation. An interim deal implemented last month calls on Tehran to suspend enrichment of uranium to 20% purity, a few steps short of weapons-grade.
Netanyahu, who has said repeatedly that a final plan must include much stricter regulations, complained that Iran has been prematurely rewarded by the international community.
“Iran has given zero, or practically zero,” Netanyahu said. “But Iran has received a great deal. It’s received the easing of sanctions. It’s received the nations that are cuing up ... to do more business with Iran.”
Netanyahu spoke for half an hour at an annual gathering of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, a pro-Israel group that lobbies American policy makers.
Addressing another key negotiation process -- ongoing American-led peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians -- Netanyahu reiterated a warning that he would not agree to a deal that does not include Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.
“The root cause of the conflict is not the settlements, it’s not the terrorism,” Netanyahu said. “The root cause of this conflict is the refusal to accept the right of the Jewish people to a state of their own.”
Netanyahu said Palestinian resistance to recognizing the Jewish character of the land “raises serious questions about whether they are committed to a genuine peace.” Without such recognition, he said, Palestinians will continue to make claims on land lost during Israel’s 1948 war for independence.
He stressed the need for Palestinian reconciliation “if we want to achieve a real peace.”
“One half of the Palestinian population is under the boot of Iran,” Netanyahu said, a reference to the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by Iran-backed Hamas. The militant group has condemned the peace talks, saying Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah party controls the West Bank, does not have authority to bargain on behalf of all Palestinians.
Netanyahu criticized West Bank leaders for not doing more to confront Hamas, which has said that armed resistance is the only option for Palestinians.
Netanyahu also took aim at the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which targets Israeli companies that operate in Jewish settlements on land Palestinians claim for a future independent state. He described the movement, which has gained traction in recent months with a high-profile campaign against the Israeli firm SodaStream, as “eerie.”
“The most disgraceful thing is to have people on the soils of Europe talking about the boycotts of Jews,” Netanyahu said. He called backers of the boycott movement “classical anti-Semites in modern garb.”