PARIS — Unable to find support from its U.S. allies, Israel is turning to France to help head off what it sees as a bad and dangerous nuclear deal with Iran.
In an interview with The Associated Press in Paris, Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz said Monday that dialogue with France over Iran's nuclear program "has proven in the past that it was productive" and makes this week's last-minute diplomatic mission to Paris worthwhile.
France played a key role strengthening an interim agreement with Iran in late 2013 that froze key parts of the Islamic republic's nuclear program in exchange for some relief from Western sanctions.
The so-called P5+1 group — Britain, China, France, Russia the United States and Germany — is attempting to reach a final nuclear deal with Iran before a deadline expires at the end of the month.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Saturday "achieving a deal is possible" by the target date. A preliminary accord then is meant to lead to a final deal by the end of June that would permanently crimp Tehran's nuclear programs in exchange for the lifting of sanctions. Iran claims that its program is only aimed at generating power, but other nations fear it is trying to develop nuclear weapons.
Steinitz and Israel's national security adviser, Yossi Cohen, were meeting with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and other top diplomats involved in the Iran talks. He told the AP only a deal that "dismantles, not simply freezes" Iran's nuclear program would be acceptable.
France has been more hawkish than the U.S. at the negotiating table, reportedly demanding more stringent restrictions than other Western delegations.
Shimon Stein, a former Israeli ambassador to Germany who has been briefed on the P5+1 efforts with Iran, says Steinitz's trip to France is a natural course of action given Israel's opposition and the way the talks have been progressing.
He said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's address to Congress March 3 essentially exhausted the American option for Israel, and it is now trying to exert its influence against the deal wherever that is possible. Against a perception that the Americans are rushing to a deal and willing to cut corners to do so, he said France has become a potential ally from Israel's perspective, supplanting Britain as the most hawkish European country regarding Iran.
"It's only natural that given Netanyahu's concern of a deal with Iran that he would turn to France," Stein said. "France is the weak link among the group."
In the interview Steinitz declined to discuss what would happen if the deal now on the table goes through. "We don't have a plan B, we only have a plan A and this is to try to prevent a bad deal with Iran or at least to try to make it more reasonable and to close some of the gaps and loopholes that made it even worse," he said.
In Tehran Monday, an Iranian nuclear negotiator urged world powers to find a "common position" to achieve a "balanced" final nuclear deal.
Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said Iran saw a lack of coordination among the six-nation group at the latest round of talks. The U.S. and Iran broke off nuclear negotiations in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Friday for consultations but they are to resume the talks Wednesday.
Both Iran and the U.S. have reported substantial progress in the talks but also say gaps remain. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Saturday that "there is nothing that can't be resolved."
Associated Press writer Aron Heller in Jerusalem contributed to this report.