Netanyahu pressures Europe to quit Iran deal during trip

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spent his three-day trip to Europe attempting to persuade Germany, France and Britain to quit the Iran nuclear deal.

British Prime Minister Theresa May (L) greets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Downing Street in London on Wednesday. Photo by Neil Hall/EPA-EFE
British Prime Minister Theresa May (L) greets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Downing Street in London on Wednesday. Photo by Neil Hall/EPA-EFE

Netanyahu, a steadfast opponent of the nuclear deal since it was signed in 2015, accused Iran of “trying to conquer” the Middle East with its military presence in Syria. The Israeli leader also lobbied European powers to follow the lead of the United States and pull out of the Iran nuclear accord.

On Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel defended the Iran accord, officially called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

“There’s not agreement on every issue,” Merkel said after meeting with Netanyahu in Berlin, adding that although Germany and Israel agree on the need to prevent a “nuclear-armed” Iran, they have different views on how to achieve that goal.

At a press conference with Netanyahu on Tuesday, French President Emmanuel Macron warned of the risk of an “escalation” with Iran.

The French president called on Israel and Iran to “stabilize the situation and not give into this escalation which would lead to only one thing: conflict.”

Macron pointed blame at U.S. President Donald Trump for pulling out of the Iran deal, which was signed by China, Russia, Germany, France, Britain and the European Union.

“When you decide to bring an end to a deal on your side, that does not encourage the other party to respect it,” Macron said, calling this “solid common sense.”

In Britain, Netanyahu similarly pressured Prime Minister Theresa May to come up with a plan to “roll back Iran’s aggression in the region.” May vowed to remain committed to the Iran deal as long as Tehran complied by its requirements.

“Along with France and Germany, the U.K. continues to believe [the JCPOA] is the best route to preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon,” May said. “We will remain committed to it as long as Iran meets its obligations. But we do recognize that there are other issues that need to be addressed in relation to Iran – its destabilizing regional activity in countries like Syria and Yemen and also the proliferation of ballistic missiles.”

Tuesday, Iran announced it would begin plans to increase the country’s uranium enrichment within the terms of the 2015 agreement following Trump’s withdrawal from the accord.

Several companies have begun pulling out of Iran following the United States’ withdrawal, including France’s Total and the Netherlands’ Maersk, which said it would be impossible to stay in Iran once sanctions were fully reimposed over the next six months.

Netanyahu said he was confident EU firms operating in Iran would not be able to resist U.S. sanctions.

“I didn’t ask France to withdraw from JCPOA because I think it will be dissolved by weight of economic forces,” the Israeli president said. “My interest is not this or that agreement but to make sure Iran does not have nuclear weapons, and the last thing anyone wants is to have this theocratic dictatorship [with] a nuclear arsenal.”

By Sara Shayanian