But I understand the skepticism in Israel about this new positive tone. After all, the centrifuges are still spinning. To succeed, conciliatory words will have to be matched by the right actions. It is the Iranian government’s choices alone that have led to the comprehensive sanctions that are currently in place, and it is those choices that need to change if the sanctions are to be lifted. So let me give Israel four reassurances about our intentions in these talks.
First, we will not do a bad deal. As we take part in these negotiations we will keep clear in our minds one thing above all others – the infrastructure of Iran’s nuclear program, how many centrifuges they have, and how long it would take them to develop a bomb.
Second, we are not going to lift sanctions on Iran too cheaply. We must not forget that as things stand, Iran is installing more centrifuges in its nuclear facilities and remains in breach of six UN Security Resolutions and of multiple Resolutions of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Unless that changes, we will continue to maintain strong sanctions. As British Foreign Secretary William Hague has made clear, a substantial change in British or Western policies on the Iranian nuclear program requires a substantive change in that program.
Third, we are not naive. We have ample experience of dealing with the Iranian regime and go into this with our eyes open.
Iran is not just Israel’s problem
Fourth, we will neither rush to do a deal, nor let the process get strung out. Iran’s nuclear program marches on, and as more centrifuges get installed so it becomes harder to negotiate a solution that gives us all sufficient reassurance. The clock is ticking. But the clock is not at zero. And it is far from clear than time is working against us. The leaders of Iran are watching their economy crumble, their unemployment grow, their factories shut, their reserves shrink. They know that if these talks do not go somewhere in a sensible timeframe we will be bringing in the next, even tougher round of sanctions.
We are all in favor of resolving this issue through negotiations and a diplomatic settlement. The question is whether such a negotiated outcome is possible – whether the rulers of Iran are willing to take the concrete, verifiable steps needed for us to have confidence that they cannot develop nuclear weapons quickly. We hope that negotiations will lead to concrete results, and it is important that we maintain the positive momentum. But we will not forget that Iran’s nuclear program is continuing to develop.
We must test to the full whether this possibility exists. We must not take the smiles at face value, but neither should we rule out in advance the possibility that negotiations might succeed. Instead we should test whether the same motivation that makes them smile might also cause them to make meaningful steps on their nuclear program.
Iran is not just Israel’s problem. Iran’s nuclear ambitions and its support for terrorism present a threat to the region and the world. These are not issues between Iran and Israel, they are issues between Iran and the world. Israel does not face the threat from Iran's nuclear ambitions alone.
Matthew Gould is Britain's ambassador to Israel