JERUSALEM – Israel's defense minister voiced skepticism on Tuesday over an agreement by Iran to open up its nuclear facilities to U.N. inspectors, saying the Iranians are trying to create a "deception of progress" to save off international pressure.
The cool reception from Defense Minister Ehud Barak signaled that Israel will not ease up pressure on the international community to curb Iran's nuclear program. Israel has repeatedly hinted it is ready to use force if it concludes international diplomacy has failed to stop the Iranians.
Barak spoke shortly after the U.N.'s nuclear chief announced he had reached a preliminary deal to allow his inspectors to restart a long-stalled probe into suspicions that Iran is secretly developing nuclear arms. The announcement came a day before Iran and six world powers were to meet in Baghdad for another round of negotiations.
"It looks like the Iranians are trying to reach a technical agreement that will create a deception of progress in talks in order to reduce the pressure ahead of talks tomorrow in Baghdad and postpone harshening of sanctions," Barak said during a discussion at the Defense Ministry, according to a statement from his office.
"Israel believes that a clear bar should be set for Iran that won't leave room for any window or crack for Iran to proceed toward military nuclear capability," Barak said. "It's forbidden to make any concessions to Iran. World powers demands must be clear and unequivocal."
Barak held out the possibility that Iran be allowed to keep a "symbolic amount" of low-enriched uranium for medical or research purposes, but only if it is under "strict" international supervision.
Israel wants Iran to halt the enrichment of uranium — a key step toward building a nuclear bomb — and agree to ship most of its stockpile of enriched uranium out of the country and open its nuclear facilities to inspection.
Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
Israel, along with the West, suspects that Iran is developing a nuclear bomb. Israel considers a nuclear-armed Iran a mortal threat, citing Iranian calls for Israel's destruction, Iran's support for Arab militant groups and Iran's development of missiles capable of striking Israel.