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Israel Sounds Alarm As Iran Engages In Nuclear Talks


Last weekend's meeting on Iran's controversial nuclear program didn't produce breakthroughs, but the envoys from six world powers and Iran suggested that the talks in Istanbul started a process that could lead to an eventual compromise. But one nation, Israel, was not happy with the results. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports from Jerusalem.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: While much of the world is relieved that Iran is finally engaged in talks on his suspect nuclear program, Israel is sounding an alarm.

DANNY AYALON: We want to caution from falling into the trap of a good atmosphere.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon. In a press conference this week, he told members of the international news media that the talks in Israel's view are being used by Iran as a stalling tactic.

AYALON: The Iranians should stop immediately. We would like to see results now.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Israel wants Iran to stop enriching uranium right now. It wants Iran to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency access to its suspect sites, and it wants Iran to stop transferring its nuclear facilities to the Fordo installation, which is buried deep underground.

A new round of economic sanctions, the harshest yet, are supposed to kick in in July. Israel would like to see them implemented today. And that has put Israel at odds with the United States. After the Istanbul negotiations, Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said the talks were giving Iran a, quote, "freebie," which caused President Obama to defend diplomacy as a vital part of his administration's multi-pronged approach.

Eitan Livne is the director of Iran Research and Content for the Israel Project.

EITAN LIVNE: Iran was given the one thing it needs the most, and that's more time.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There is another round of talks scheduled for May in Baghdad and Livne says Israel is worried that the world is wasting time.

LIVNE: Because Iran is continuing with its enrichment program and it is moving enrichment facilities underground, that is why Israel feels time is running out.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Iran's underground facilities are a particular concern because it makes it more difficult for a military strike to be successful. But not everyone here believes talks with Iran are futile.

DAVID MENASHARI: I believe that you can persuade the Iranians to change their policy with pressure and allowing them to preserve their dignity and self-respect.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: David Menashari is an Iranian-Israeli analyst. He says with U.S. elections coming up, the United States does not want to be dragged into a conflict with Iran, and so it's pushing sanctions and talks as the way forward. And he says he believes that the combination is the right tactic. He notes the sanctions already in place are having a dire economic effect on the country. The currency has been devalued, and there are shortages of everything, and people are genuinely struggling.

A recent video uploaded on YouTube seems to show hungry protesters mobbing Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently while he was on a tour of Iran's south. Menashari says Israel's rhetoric far from helping, is only inflaming the situation.

MENASHARI: The Iranian nuclear program is a serious problem for Israel and the region, but dealing with it with statements - I would say often irresponsible statements - is unlikely to solve the problem.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But everyone here agrees that unless real progress is made next month, it will be harder for the U.S. and Europe to engage in talks with Iran much longer.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Jerusalem.


SIMON: And you're listening to NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.