Catherine Ashton, the EU Foreign Affairs Chief, visited Jerusalem yesterday to consult with Benjamin Netanyahu about the Iran negotiations. Ashton is a key player in the nuclear talks. Apparently presenting an Israeli united front, cabinet ministers Ehud Barak, Avigdor Lieberman and Netanyahu’s new coalition partner, Shaul Mofaz of Kadima, also attended the meeting. According to Haaretz , Netanyahu repeated his government’s rigid view:
During the meeting, the Israelis presented a rigid set of demands for the Iranians, a senior Israeli official said. Netanyahu and the three ministers told Ashton that Israel’s position leading up to the Baghdad talks is that the talks will be considered as progress only if they would yield an Iranian guarantee – with a clear timetable – to halt uranium enrichment, to remove all enriched uranium out of Iranian soil, and to dismantle the underground enrichment facility in Fordo, which is near Qom.
How appropriate is it for Ashton to travel to Israel in order to brief the Israeli Prime Minister? After all, Israel is not an official party to the talks and has made it known that it is hoping that the diplomatic effort will fail. Considering the enmity between the Israelis and Iranians, it is doubtful if these public consultations will inspire trust in Tehran.
The Ashton trip to Jerusalem was apparently arranged by Yaakov Amidror, who last week toured European capitals consulting with officials involved in the negotiations. Apparently, one of the results of his tour was convincing the EU foreign policy chief to come to Israel.
The Israeli demand that Iran not be permitted to enrich uranium even at lower levels is probably a deal breaker. Iran has always insisted that it be permitted to enrich at least at low levels while it has agreed to stop enrichment at higher levels. The optimism that was generated after the initial round of the talks was reported to be based on a framework of allowing Iran to enrich, but only at lower levels. The actual six power position on Iranian uranium enrichment is not clear.
The initial round of the current talks was all about building confidence, according to officials. I wonder how the recent insertion of the Israelis into the mix is going to affect Iranian confidence concerning the trustworthiness and reliability of the Western powers.
If the leaders of the six powers cannot stop the Israelis from making provocative statements geared to sabotaging the talks, the Iranians may conclude that these same world leaders could not prevent Israel from vetoing any agreement by initiating a unilateral attack.