LONDON – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has shifted his strategy in opposing the Iran nuclear deal, pushing instead to sway its signatories to change the agreement rather than scuttle it.
“The goal that I have in mind is not keeping or eliminating the deal. It’s improving the deal and correcting its main flaws,” Netanyahu told his British counterpart, Prime Minister Theresa May, on Thursday, when the two met at 10 Downing Street in London.
Netanyahu has embarked on a series of conversations with world leaders after finding they are more open to fixing rather than nixing it.
It was a markedly different tone from the past, when his focus was solely on pushing the world powers to reject the deal.
Netanyahu’s conversation with May followed talks he had with Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
He also plans to discuss the matter with French President Emmanuel Macron.
After meeting May, Netanyahu told reporters that flaws in the accord can be fixed if the six world powers that are signatories to the deal – the US, Great Britain, Germany, France, China and Russia – agree to take policy steps outside the confines of the agreement, which would counter some of the worst problems in the text.
The more the signatories agree on these issues, the more change is possible, he said. Since the needed changes are outside the confines of the agreement, they do not need to be negotiated with Iran, Netanyahu added.
These changes include the issues of inspections and “sunset clauses,” the portion of the agreement regarding Iran’s ability to enrich uranium and develop centrifuges, which automatically expires after a set time.
The problem with the deal, Netanyahu said, is that if Iran does nothing and keeps to the agreement, it will be able to produce nuclear weapons.
He said the six nations could also take steps to counter the Islamic Republic’s ballistic missile program, which is not part of the deal. In the past, Netanyahu has spoken of the need to impose sanctions to make this happen.
US President Donald Trump has agreed with Netanyahu that the deal is bad.
The other five signatories, including May, hold that the accord is critical for regional security. Netanyahu believes the deal ensures Tehran will have nuclear weapons.
But Trump’s decision last month to decertify the deal, a move that could pave the way for Congress to reimpose sanctions on Iran, appears to have softened the attitude of the other signatories when it comes to fixing the deal.
Netanyahu told reporters he felt that he and May have come closer on these issues.
At the start of their meeting, May explained to Netanyahu that she remained committed to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
Netanyahu said if May wants to hold on to the deal, she must act to fix it to ensure Iran won’t become a nuclear power.
“I think that those who want to keep the deal should cooperate in correcting the deal. I have some concrete ideas which I look forward to discussing with you,” Netanyahu told May.
“The threat that we all see is a resurgent Iran that is bent not only on dominating the region but bent on developing nuclear weapons.”
He explained that as a result of this threat, “Many Arab countries now see Israel not as an enemy, but as their indispensable ally in the battle against militant Islam.”
According to 10 Downing Street, May “reiterated the UK’s continued strong support for the JCPOA nuclear accord and the view that we share with our E3 [French and German] partners that it is critical for regional security.”
Netanyahu and May both agreed that the deal must be enforced and the international community must work together to halt Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region, including its support for Hezbollah and Syria.
They also agreed that ISIS must be defeated in Syria and Iraq, the British prime minister’s office added.
Separately, Netanyahu said he was pushing to bring Jonathan Pollard to Israel, a move the US has prohibited, even though he was released from jail after serving a 30-year sentence for passing classified information to Israel.
“It’s a complex legal problem, we have been working on it since his release,” Netanyahu said.