Israel's Defence minister voiced scepticism yesterday over an agreement by Iran to open up its nuclear facilities to UN inspectors, saying that the Iranians were trying to create a "deception of progress" to stave off international pressure. The cool reception from Ehud Barak signalled that Israel will not ease up pressure on the international community to curb Iran's nuclear programme.
Israel has repeatedly hinted it is ready to use force if it concludes international diplomacy has failed to stop the Iranians. Mr Barak spoke shortly after Yukiya Amano, head of the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), announced he had reached a preliminary deal to allow his inspectors to restart a long-stalled probe into suspicions that Iran is secretly developing nuclear arms.
The announcement came a day before Iran and six world powers were to meet in Baghdad for another round of negotiations.
"It looks like the Iranians are trying to reach a technical agreement that will create a deception of progress in talks in order to reduce the pressure ahead of talks tomorrow in Baghdad and postpone harshening of sanctions," Mr Barak said during a discussion at the Defence Ministry, according to a statement from his office. "Israel believes that a clear bar should be set for Iran that won't leave room for any window or crack for Iran to proceed toward military nuclear capability," he added. "It's forbidden to make any concessions to Iran. World powers' demands must be clear and unequivocal."
Mr Barak held out the possibility that Iran be allowed to keep a "symbolic amount" of low-enriched uranium for medical or research purposes, but only if it is under "strict" international supervision. Israel wants Iran to halt the enrichment of uranium – a key step toward building a nuclear bomb – and agree to ship most of its stockpile of enriched uranium out of the country and open its nuclear facilities to inspection.
Iran says its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes.
Israel, along with the West, suspects that Iran is developing a nuclear bomb. Israel considers a nuclear-armed Iran a mortal threat, citing Iranian calls for Israel's destruction, Tehran's support for Arab militant groups and the development of missiles capable of striking Israel.