Amid signs of détente with Iran, Netanyahu warns against sanctions letup

By Tom Curry, National Affairs Writer, NBC News

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday that the result of the current negotiations between Western nations and the Iranian regime must be nothing less than “the full dismantling of Iran's military nuclear program.”

Last week in Geneva, Western diplomats held two days of talks with Iran on the nuclear weapons question. They called the talks detailed and serious, although no agreement seems imminent. The next round of talks will take place on Nov. 7 and 8.

Netanyahu responded to a report last week in the New York Times that the Obama administration is considering a proposal to ease economic sanctions on Tehran by giving it access to billions of dollars in frozen funds if the Iranians take steps to curb their nuclear weapons development program.


“I think the pressure has to be maintained on Iran, even increased on Iran, until it actually stops the nuclear program, that is, dismantles it,” Netanyahu said. He warned against “any partial deal could end up in dissolving the sanctions” since there are many countries around the world who are “just waiting for a signal to get rid of their sanctions regime” against Iran.

He made the analogy with Syria’s commitment to get rid of its arsenal of chemical weapons, which international weapons inspectors are now beginning to carry out.

“Suppose Syria said, ‘Well, you know, we're going to dismantle 20 percent of it….’” and then expected other nations to ease sanctions because of that. “Nobody would buy that,” the Israeli prime minister said. “That's exactly what Iran is trying to do. They're trying to give a partial deal that they know could end up dissolving the sanctions regime and would keep them with the nuclear weapons capabilities.”

As to Iranian assets held outside that country that are now frozen, Netanyahu said they were frozen for three reasons. “One, Iran's terrorist actions; two, its aggressive actions particularly in the (Persian) Gulf; and three, its continued refusal to stop the production of weapons of mass destruction. You know, if you get all three done and they stop doing it, well then, I suppose you could unfreeze them,” he told NBC’s David Gregory.

Also on Meet the Press, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said it was premature “to be talking about the easing” of sanctions against Iran. “I think the sanctions were working and that's why the discussions (in Geneva) have started. But we need to see what they're going to actually do. We need to see rolling back their nuclear program. And I can tell you that when the time comes, when those movements come, any changes will have to be proportionate.”

He added, “We need to see real, tangible evidence of it, and that we will not make moves in the sanctions until we see those kinds of moves.”

In his interview on Meet the Press, Netanyahu also commented on the civil war in Syria, Israel’s northern neighbor, and the presence of jihadist groups fighting to topple the Assad regime, some of whom are deployed along the Syrian-Israeli border.

Asked whether, given the alternative of a jihadist regime replacing Assad, he prefers to have Assad remain in power, Netanyahu replied, “No. I certainly don't. I mean I don't think Assad is in power. I think Iran is in power, because basically, Syria has become an Iranian protectorate. Iran's henchmen, Hezbollah, are doing the fighting for Assad, for his army.”

He said he hoped that “a third way” – neither the Assad regime nor a jihadist successor government – could be found. “We want to end it in the best way, that we don't have either an Iranian protectorate or a jihadist regime, a la Afghanistan, in Syria,” he said.