(Photo: Reuters/Joshua Roberts)
Israel criticized on Sunday an interim nuclear deal the United States and other world powers reached with Iran, calling it a "historic mistake." It is also a "betrayal" of U.S. Pastor Saeed Abedini, who is in an Iranian prison because of his Christian faith, said the American Center for Law and Justice, which had urged Washington to secure his release as a precondition.
"What was concluded in Geneva last night is not a historic agreement, it's a historic mistake," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, of the four-page agreement, to which Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany are also party.
Named the "Joint Plan of Action," the deal requires Iran to freeze its nuclear program for six months even as negotiators continue to push for a longer-term agreement. In return, Iran will be provided with up to $7 billion in relief from international sanctions for the duration of the interim agreement.
The deal has "not made the world a safer place," Netanyahu told reporters, as quoted by CNN. "Like the agreement with North Korea in 2005, this agreement has made the world a much more dangerous place."
The agreement does not restrict Iran from retaining most of its nuclear infrastructure, and can therefore potentially develop a nuclear device. Washington has also held the core oil and banking sanctions it has imposed.
"For years the international community has demanded that Iran cease all uranium enrichment," the Israeli leader added. "Now, for the first time, the international community has formally consented that Iran continue its enrichment of uranium."
Netanyahu went on to say that Iran is taking only cosmetic steps which can be reversed within a few weeks, while sanctions that took years to put in place are going to be eased. "Iran is going to receive billions of dollars' worth in sanctions relief. So the pressures on Iran is being lifted, they're being eased... this 'first step' could very well be the last step," he said. "Without continued pressure, what incentive does the Iranian regime have to take serious steps that actually dismantle its nuclear weapons capability?"
However, Washington maintains that the agreement will help deter Iran's nuclear program. "We believe very strongly that because the Iranian nuclear program is actually set backwards and is actually locked into place in critical places, that that is better for Israel than if you were just continuing to go down the road and they rush towards a nuclear weapon," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told CNN's State of the Union.
"There is very little relief. We are convinced over the next few months, we will really be able to put to the test what Iran's intentions are," Kerry added.
President Barack Obama spoke to Netanyahu on the phone on Sunday.
"The President underscored that the United States will remain firm in our commitment to Israel, which has good reason to be skeptical about Iran's intentions," the White House said in a statement.
Meanwhile, ACLJ, which had urged Kerry to secure the release of Pastor Saeed before entering into an agreement with Iran, said the Obama Administration betrayed Saeed, leaving a U.S. citizen imprisoned because of his faith behind.
"President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry turned their backs on a U.S. citizen by refusing to secure his freedom before reaching an agreement with Iran," Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the ACLJ, said in a statement. "It is outrageous and a betrayal of American Pastor Saeed Abedini who has spent more than a year in an Iranian prison simply because of his Christian faith."
The Obama Administration has sent "a troubling message to the Iranian government that Americans are expendable," Sekulow said, noting that Pastor Saeed faces life-threatening conditions in one of Iran's most dangerous prisons.
The ACLJ represents Saeed's wife, Naghmeh, and their two children who live in Idaho.
Saeed is serving an 8-year sentence despite international efforts and numerous petitions headed by the ACLJ seeking his release. Obama raised the issue of the pastor's detention during his first phone conversation with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Sept. 27.
Concerns over Saeed's safety have deepened after his sudden transfer from Evin prison in Tehran to the even more brutal prison in Karaj County of Iran's Alborz Province.
Last Wednesday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee approved a bipartisan resolution urging Abedini's immediate release and also condemning Iran's persecution of religious minorities. The House resolution followed a similar move by the Senate the previous week.
Saeed was sentenced earlier this year for endangering "national security," but the ACLJ believes the punishment has more to do with Saeed's Christian faith.