OCCUPIED JERUSALEM/GENEVA: The world’s positive response to the latest nuclear talks with Iran drew bitter skepticism from Israel, which warned its Western allies Thursday they risked being duped into easing sanctions prematurely.
Energy Minister Silvan Shalom, a former foreign minister, went further, accusing the European Union and the United States of being more interested in the resumption of Iranian oil exports than with addressing an issue that Israel regards as a threat to its very existence.
Washington, which has had no diplomatic relations with Tehran since the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic revolution, said Iranian negotiators had shown a greater level of “seriousness and substance” in this week’s talks than ever before.
But Israel, which has mounted a massive lobbying campaign to keep up the economic and military pressure on its No. 1 foe, insisted Iran’s intentions could be proved only by concrete steps to wind down its nuclear program, not by “sweet talk” from its new president.
“ Iran will be judged by its actions and not by its presentations,” a senior Israeli official said.
“Until significant steps are carried out on the ground which prove that Iran is breaking up its military nuclear program, the international community must continue to impose sanctions upon it,” he added.
“The pressure of sanctions brought Iran to this point and must continue until Iran is stripped of its nuclear military program.”
After the talks in Geneva Tuesday and Wednesday, Iranian officials touted a “breakthrough” in the decade-old negotiations on allaying international concerns over its nuclear ambitions.
They said they were hopeful of a “new phase” in Iran’s relations with the world after outlining a three-step plan, including spot checks on nuclear facilities, to try to reach a comprehensive agreement “within a year.”
“We hope that this a beginning of a new phase in our relations,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told reporters.
While the details remain under wraps, Iran’s lead nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi said its proposal involved “proportionate and reciprocal steps by both sides.”
After an hourlong presentation Tuesday by Iran’s team – in English, a first in the nuclear talks – Araqchi said the proposal had the “capacity to make a breakthrough.”
Iran’s plan contains three steps that could settle the nuclear dispute “within a year,” Araqchi has said, the first achievable “within a month or two, or even less.”
He said that snap inspections of Iran’s atomic facilities were part of the last step.
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told reporters the next meeting would convene in Geneva on Nov. 7 and 8.
She read from what she underlined was an unprecedented joint statement agreed with Zarif and herself as chair of the international negotiating team.
The EU is at the helm of the so-called P5+1 group – Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, plus Germany – which has spent years trying to reach a deal with Iran amid fears it is developing nuclear weapons.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Iran’s presentation at the talks was “useful,” showing a “level of seriousness and substance that we have not seen before.”
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki cautioned, however, there was “a great deal more work that needs to be done.”
Although there was no official response from the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s army radio quoted a source close to him as taking a hard line.
“The Americans are the angels while the Iranians have given nothing,” the source said, adding that there was “no reason for any enthusiasm.”
Israel’s energy minister said the international community’s drive to end Iran’s long isolation on the nuclear issue was primarily motivated by a concern to reduce world oil prices, driven higher by the Western sanctions on Iran’s exports.
“Diplomacy of 2013 is based, first and foremost, on the economy,” Shalom told public radio.
“The world is currently going through a financial crisis and ... the Iran issue needs to be resolved to broaden supply and bring prices down. All the rest is just empty words.”
France is also treating Iranian overtures with “caution” and is waiting to see concrete proposals on sensitive activities, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Thursday.
“We are waiting for substantive change,” Fabius told parliament. “Given what we know on Iran, the guide [Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] being the same, we are compelled to be cautiously open.”
Russia meanwhile said Thursday the talks were “quite promising” and Tehran’s new proposals could produce progress toward ending the standoff between global powers and the Islamic state.
“I would not understate the importance of this round,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said of the Geneva talks.
“In our view, although it was very tough, it was quite, quite promising,” Lukashevich said at a weekly briefing.