British and Israeli experts disagreed over Iran at Jewish News’ UK-Israel conference, just days before negotiators in Geneva are due to present a nuclear agreement to the world.
Chaired by Richard Pater, acting chief executive of BICOM, the panel spoke as international negotiators struggled to strike a deal by the 30 June deadline – a task Israeli politician Yair Lapid later said was “improbable”.
Israel’s Opposition leader, Isaac Herzog, had earlier said he was as one with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Iran, saying: “We demand an enhanced inspection regime, 24/7, on all sites. The world should be tough.”
Senior Israeli minister Silvan Shalom said Iran was seeking to “revive the Persian empire” but veteran British diplomat Sir Richard Dalton dismissed the idea, arguing instead that Iran was simply “playing a power game”.
Panellists included researchers Emily Landau and Shashank Joshi, together with Iranian-born observer Meir Javedandar and Sima Shine, acting head of Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs. Sir Richard completed the line-up.
Shalom said Israel and the US “agreed to disagree” on the issue, and that the international community was fixated on a deal because of “failures in Iraq, Libya and Syria”. Dalton, a former consul general in Jerusalem, urged perspective, saying: “A civil nuclear programme is legitimate.”
He added: “Iran is a major nation, in terms of resources and power in the region. It demands respect, and to a degree, it is right to do so.” Most panellists thought a deal would be agreed, with Joshi saying the emergence of ISIS in Iraq and Syria had “concentrated minds”. He said: “It’s a question of linkage, whether there is a connection between regional security and arms control.”
A sceptical Landau argued that, contrary to announcements in April from the Obama administration, “there is no framework” for an agreement, and that there was “ambiguity” on the removal of Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium. Javedandar said Iran had already made compromises, with the core of the heavy water reactor at Arak to be removed and daily inspections at enrichment sites. “The regime had to go back on its red lines, because it does not have the support of the people of Iran to defeat the sanctions,” he said.
Dalton meanwhile confirmed that a deal would hopefully see Iran welcomed back into ministerial-level discussions trade and investment, counter-terrorism and regional conflicts, including the Middle East peace process. “Dealing with Iran is extremely difficult,” he said. “We may not succeed. But trying is better than not trying.”