As Biden inauguration nears, Netanyahu warns US against rejoining Iran nuke deal

Prime minister praises under-fire Trump during meeting with US Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, who is en route to the Persian Gulf

By JUDAH ARI GROSS7 January 2021, 7:54 pm  0

US President Donald Trump, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walk to a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House, January 27, 2020. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

US President Donald Trump, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walk to a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House, January 27, 2020. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised US President Donald Trump’s administration for its Middle East policies on Thursday, as the American leader faced widespread criticism at home after hundreds of his supporters stormed the Capitol building the day before.

“I want to thank President Trump and all of you in the administration for all you have done and are doing for peace. You’ve made a real difference, achieving one breakthrough after another, bringing the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan into the circle of peace. I have no doubt that more Arab and Muslim countries will follow,” Netanyahu said.

In recent months, the Trump administration has brokered normalization agreements between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco. Sudan, which recently saw regime change in favor of a government more aligned with the US, has also agreed to normalize ties with Israel, though no agreement between the two countries has been signed.

The prime minister made his remarks alongside US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who stopped in Israel on Wednesday and Thursday following a visit to Sudan, where officials agreed to advance their efforts to normalize ties with Israel, and before taking off to Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for meetings.

Netanyahu repeated his opposition to the United States rejoining the Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as US President-elect Joe Biden has indicated he plans to do if Iran returns to compliance with the accord.US President Donald Trump, center, with from left, Bahrain Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, during the Abraham Accords signing ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House, September 15, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Trump withdrew the US from the agreement in 2018 — at the urging of Netanyahu — reimposing economic sanctions on Iran and prompting Tehran to begin violating the terms of the deal by enriching more uranium and to greater levels. This week, Iran announced it would begin enriching uranium to 20 percent, just a small technical step away from the 90% needed for a nuclear bomb.

Biden has said that if Iran returns to the terms of the agreement, he too would rejoin, removing the crushing economic sanctions that have wreaked havoc on the Iranian economy over the past two years.

Netanyahu, a staunch and vocal opponent of the JCPOA, warned that returning to the agreement would prompt further nuclear proliferation in the region. This claim was based on the criticism that the nuclear agreement grants legitimacy to Iran’s nuclear program, allowing portions of it to operate freely after a certain amount of time, though technically, under the deal, Tehran agrees to never pursue nuclear weapons.

“If we just go back to the JCPOA, what will happen and may already be happening is that many other countries in the Middle East will rush to arm themselves with nuclear weapons. That is a nightmare and that is folly. It should not happen,” Netanyahu said.

The premier thanked Mnuchin for his role in the imposition of economic sanctions on Iran and called for the strategy — known as “maximum pressure” — to continue.Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) addressing the media alongside US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in Jerusalem, January 7, 2021. (GPO)

“I also want to commend the maximum pressure campaign on Iran. Under your leadership, the US Treasury has played a crucial role in applying and enforcing sanctions on the Iranian regime,” Netanyahu said.

“It must be continued to prevent Iran from continuing its campaign of aggression and terror throughout the region and to prevent Iran from rushing to a nuclear arsenal,” he added.

During his remarks, Netanyahu also condemned the assault on the US Capitol building in Washington, DC, by a mob of Trump loyalists who sought to interrupt the certification of Biden’s victory in the November election.

The prime minister called the attack “disgraceful” and said it represented the “opposite of the values we know Americans and Israelis cherish.”Supporters of US President Donald Trump protest inside the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC. (ROBERTO SCHMIDT / AFP)

Mnuchin also condemned the attack on the Capitol Building and indicated that he would not be resigning from his position in light of the attack on the Capitol, which both Republican and Democratic lawmakers blamed on incitement by the president, as Deputy National Security Adviser Matt Pottinger did Wednesday.

“The violence that occurred last night at the Capitol in Washington, DC, was completely unacceptable. Now is the time for our nation to come together as one and to respect the democratic process in the US,” the treasury secretary said.

“I look forward to getting back to Washington, DC, with our continued work on the transition,” he added.

Mnuchin’s office said that during his visit in Israel, he met with Netanyahu and Finance Minister Israel Katz to discuss the economic opportunities presented by the Abraham Accords and Israel’s improved ties with the Persian Gulf.

His spokesperson said the three also spoke about “national security issues, including cooperative efforts to combat terrorist financing.”

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