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Interview: Israeli Prime Minister Bejamin Netanyahu On Iran Nuclear Deal


The most vocal critic of the Iran nuclear accord that was announced yesterday is Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel. After word came that the agreement had been reached in Vienna, he called the deal a bad mistake of historic proportions. To hear what Israel's next steps might be, we have Prime Minister Netanyahu on the line now from his office in Jerusalem. Prime Minister, good morning, and welcome back to the program.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Good morning. Good to be with you.

GREENE: Let me just ask you - you say Israel is not bound by this deal and that you are worried this deal increases the chance that Iran will be a nuclear threat, so when it comes to ensuring that Iran does not have a nuclear weapon, what is Israel's next move?

NETANYAHU: I think we have the obligation and the right to defend ourselves against those like Iran who openly seek our destruction. They vow that they will annihilate us from the face of the earth. And therefore, we'll take whatever measures are necessary to defend ourselves. Iran is an enemy of peace, an enemy of Israel, a friend of extremists, an oppressor at home against gays, women's rights, jailed journalists - but more than anything else, it seeks to annihilate the Jewish state. It's killed more Americans than anyone except al-Qaida, so we'll consider to make our position heard, but also, we'll continue to defend ourselves. This agreement doesn't change anything.

GREENE: Does defending yourselves mean the possibility of military action against Iran?

NETANYAHU: It means defending ourselves.

GREENE: Would you take military action, if that is the only way you see to make sure that Iran does not have a nuclear weapon?

NETANYAHU: I will say this. Look, the Jewish people have been homeless for thousands of years, and we've reestablished our national home and the state of Israel 67 years ago. Iran says that that's a brief interlude and that they're committed to destroy us. They're not only committed to destroy us. They're committed to destroy the regimes around us and to conquer the Middle East and then go on from there for the rest of the world. So our policy is that Iran won't have the nuclear weapons to achieve that goal. And by the way, I'm not alone here - I mean, just about every Arab leader in the Middle East agrees with my assessment. And, therefore, when Jews and Arabs agree on something, you know, I think it's worth paying attention.

GREENE: Well, let me ask you, Prime Minister Netanyahu, about President Obama because he seems to agree with your assessment largely. I mean, he gave an interview to The New York Times yesterday. He acknowledges that Iran is stirring up trouble in the region. I mean, he acknowledges they're funding Hezbollah which, as he said, has thousands of missiles pointed at Israel, but President Obama said, let's keep our eye on the ball. I mean, he put a very narrow focus on this deal. Basically saying that if Iran is going to behave this way, better to have them behave this way without a nuclear weapon. Why could you not get behind that very narrow bar of success here?

NETANYAHU: Well, I wish I could. I wish it did bar their path to a nuclear weapon, but there we have a substantial disagreement. First of all, I think it's a false choice. I think you can prevent them from getting nuclear weapons and prevent them from having the kind of aggression in the region and the support of terror worldwide.

To boot, I think it's possible to link the two and not separate the two, which supposedly has been done. But even in the separation, Iran has in fact been given two paths to the bomb. One is if they cheat, and the second is if they keep the deal. They win either way. The inspections that were placed on preventing from cheating is woefully inadequate because it's not that they have 24 hours to be inspected anytime, anywhere - it's that they have 24 days to take their time, to see why they're being inspected, to be given the intelligence data of why the inspection is required. That's a long time. You can flush a lot of evidence down the toilet. It's like telling a drug dealer we're going to check your meth lab in 24 days. We put you on warning. And therefore, I think these inspections are completely porous.

Zarif, the foreign minister of Iran said earlier today, I think - or yesterday - he said, these inspections do not call for inspections anywhere, anytime, and that's a fact. So I think number one, Iran can cheat. Second, suppose they don't cheat - they just keep the deal. Within a decade - say, 12 years at most - they'll be free to build, to enrich uranium at whatever scale they want. And they'll be very close to breakout. I think President Obama in one of his previous interviews said at that point they could have effectively zero breakout time to the bomb and that, unfortunately, is true. So I think if the idea is well, at least we get them away from the bomb - no, you don't. You at most might delay it. But I don't think you will because they could cheat, and if you delay it, they'll fan out...

GREENE: But...

NETANYAHU: ..With the capacity to make the nuclear fissile core necessary for atomic bombs...

GREENE: If I may, Prime Minister, it's - the argument from President Obama is basically, I mean, that you cannot stop Iran from ever having nuclear capabilities. I mean, they're a country with many people - with a lot of smart people. I mean, he is basically saying this deal will keep them from having a nuclear weapon over the next decade. If that is possible, why is that not in Israel's national security interest?

NETANYAHU: First of all, I think you can keep them from having a bomb. We've kept them from having a bomb for decades. And it's because of a very tough stance that we've taken, the tough fighting sanctions that were installed that in fact made them stop. Iran stopped twice - twice - its nuclear program - once in 2003 when they thought there would be an American action following the American intervention in Iraq. It took them about a year to figure out that that wasn't likely, so they continued with building their nuclear program. Second time is 2012 when fighting sanctions on the banking systems on their petrochemical industry and elsewhere were enforced. And since then, Iran barely added - didn't add any centrifuges, went down from the enriched uranium - remember the red line that I placed at the U.N.?



GREENE: ...Prime Minister, we only have about 30 seconds left.

NETANYAHU: So I think it's perfectly possible to prevent them, but what they're being given now...

GREENE: If I could get to one more question, I apologize for interrupting, I just - in the very brief time we have left - could you at some point get behind this deal and be convinced that it could see a success and offer Israel's help in monitoring Iran and working with these countries that were involved?

NETANYAHU: I think this deal is Iran's path to a nuclear arsenal, and I think it gives them hundreds of billions of dollars right away with which to pursue their aggression and terror against us and against the United States and the world.

GREENE: We'll have to leave it there. We'll have to leave it there. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it.

NETANYAHU: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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