Though issues of Jewish identity and communal giving dominated the agenda of a gathering of North American Jewish leaders in Jerusalem this week, Iran was the primary focus of the political leaders who addressed the crowd.
On Monday, Israeli President Shimon Peres and U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro told those gathered for the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America that they have confidence in U.S. determination to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
Shapiro stressed the commitment of President Barack Obama and the United States to Israel’s security, calling the alliance between the two countries “as close as it has ever been.”
Shapiro said both countries share the goal of stopping Iran’s nuclear program.
“There is no greater priority for the United States and Israel than preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” he said. President Barack Obama “will not permit Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon, period.”
Peres downplayed reports of divisions between the United States and Israel regarding recent negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program, and expressed confidence in the U.S. handling of the issue.
The president committed himself not to permit the Iranians to become a nuclear power, Peres said, “not just for the sake of Israel but for the sake of humanity.”
The comments by Peres and Shapiro contrasted with remarks by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in which he called the proposal by the U.S. and other Western powers regarding Iran’s nuclear program “a bad and dangerous deal.”
“What is being proposed now is a deal in which Iran retains all of that capacity” to build a nuclear weapon, Netanyahu told the G.A. on Sunday. “Not one centrifuge is dismantled; not one. Iran gets to keep tons of low-enriched uranium.”
Netanyahu’s warnings came after the announcement in Geneva that a final bargaining session that started late Saturday night and stretched into early Sunday morning failed to produce a deal.
The sides announced that negotiations will continue on Nov. 20, citing the need to overcome differences.
Iran is negotiating with the P5+1 world powers, which refers to the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — Russia, China, the United States, France and Britain — plus Germany, which are negotiating with Iran to end its suspected nuclear weapons program.
Under the proposed deal, Iran would freeze its nuclear program for six months in exchange for some easing of international sanctions while continuing to negotiate a long-term agreement.
Netanyahu has called on Iran to close the Arak heavy-water nuclear reactor, which is capable of enriching uranium to weapons grade, and give up all enrichment of uranium.
Speaking to the Knesset on Monday, Netanyahu said the delay in achieving an expected deal between Iran and the major Western powers was an opportunity to better its terms.
“Israel is united in opposition to the deal being offered to Iran,” he said. “We are speaking in a clear and unequivocal voice. The time that was achieved over the weekend must be utilized to achieve a much better deal.”
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who over the weekend attended the Geneva talks, said Netanyahu and others should hold fire until the parameters of a deal are known.
“Well, I’m not sure that the prime minister, who I have great respect for, knows exactly what the amount or the terms are going to be because we haven’t arrived at them all yet,” Kerry said Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press. “That’s what we’re negotiating.”
Kerry was also quoted saying this week: “I would emphasize also that the window for diplomacy does not stay open indefinitely, and we will continue working to find a peaceful solution because we believe that forceful diplomacy is a powerful enough weapon to be able to actually defuse the world’s most threatening weapons of mass destruction.”