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May 1, 2018 10:03 am

Senior Israeli Official: Netanyahu Told Trump About Iran Claims at March 5 White House Meeting

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump meet at the White House. Photo:
Reuters / Kevin Lamarque.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu informed US President Donald Trump about evidence of a past secret Iranian nuclear weapons program at a meeting in Washington on March 5, a senior Israeli official said on Tuesday.

Trump agreed that Israel would publish the information before May 12, the date by which he is due to decide whether to pull the United States out of a 2015 international nuclear deal with Iran, the Israeli official said.

In a prime-time televised statement on Monday night Netanyahu presented what he said were Iranian documents obtained in a daring Israeli intelligence operation that purportedly prove Iran had been developing nuclear weapons before the 2015 deal.

The Israelis say their evidence shows Iran lied going into the deal, a landmark 2015 agreement seen by Trump as flawed but by European powers as vital to allaying concerns that Iran could one day develop nuclear bombs.

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International and Israeli experts said Netanyahu had presented no evidence that Iran was in breach of the agreement.

Rather, it appeared the presentation, delivered almost entirely in English, was composed as an Israeli prelude to Trump quitting the accord.

Tzachi Hanegbi, Israeli minister for regional development and a confidant of Netanyahu’s, said the presentation was meant to provide Trump with the grounds to bolt the deal.

“In 12 days a huge drama will unfold. The American president will likely pull out of the deal,” Hanegbi said in an interview to Israeli Army Radio.

“What the prime minister did last night, was to give Trump ammunition against the European naivety and unwillingness regarding Iran.”

Under the nuclear deal struck by Iran and six major powers — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States — Tehran agreed to limit its nuclear program in return for relief from US and other economic sanctions.

Trump gave Britain, France and Germany a May 12 deadline to fix what he views as the deal’s flaws — its failure to address Iran’s ballistic missile program, the terms by which inspectors visit suspect Iranian sites, and “sunset” clauses under which some of its terms expire — or he will reimpose US sanctions.

A senior Israeli official said that Israel knew about the Iranian archive for a year, got hold of it in an intelligence operation in February and informed Trump about it at a meeting in Washington on March 5.

It took time for Israel to translate from Farsi, and the United States is still conducting its own review of the material, he said.

The senior official added that Israel had updated China on its Iranian material and by the end of this week was scheduled to host experts from Britian, Germany and France who would inspect it.

Asked if Israel is prepared to go to war against Iran, Netanyahu told CNN in an interview: “Nobody’s seeking that kind of development. Iran is the one that’s changing the rules in the region.”

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