Israeli minister defends Netanyahu against NYT editorial charges

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli government minister Gilad Erdan defended Benjamin Netanyahu’s call to keep sanctions in place until Iran halts nuclear enrichment in response to a New York Times editorial that blames Netanyahu for lack of progress on a diplomatic solution.

“A rare opportunity for a diplomatic resolution to the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program is at risk because many lawmakers, urged on by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, are insisting that Congress impose tougher economic sanctions,” the editorial, headlined “Not the Time to Squeeze Iran” and published on Friday, read.

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“President Obama deserves more time to work out a negotiated settlement with Iran and the other major powers. If the deal falls through, or if inspections by the United Nations unearth cheating, Congress can always impose more sanctions then. But if talks fail now, Mr. Netanyahu and the hard-line interest groups will own the failure, and the rest of us will pay the price,” the editorial concluded.

Under the widely reported proposed deal, major the Western powers would ease sanctions on Iran, if Iran agrees to drop uranium enrichment to 3.5 percent.

In his response, Erdan, Israel’s Home Front Defense and Communications Minister, pointed out that “success must be measured by what diplomacy achieves. The goal is to end Iran’s nuclear weapons program. A deal should be a means to that end and not an end in itself.”

Erdan reiterated that in order to freeze its nuclear program, Iran would have to stop construction of its plutonium-producing heavy water nuclear reactor at Arak, and halt all uranium enrichment, which Iran has refused to do. He added that the sanctions relief reportedly being offered to Iran is not mild.

“Contrary to the New York Times editorial, this is precisely ‘the time to squeeze Iran.’ If the P5+1 do so and thereby succeed in reaching an agreement that peacefully and genuinely ends Iran’s nuclear weapons program, preventing it from becoming a threshold nuclear military power, we will all have Prime Minister Netanyahu among others to thank for their vigilance,” Erdan concluded.