April 28, 2018 / 11:01 AM / in 6 months

RPT-Israel says 'denuclearized' Korean peninsula helpful versus Iran

(Repeats without change)

By Daniel Bases

NEW YORK, April 27 (Reuters) - Friday’s historic pledge by the leaders of the two Koreas to work to denuclearize the Korean peninsula should give U.S. President Donald Trump a stronger hand to renegotiate the treaty curtailing Iran’s nuclear program, Israel’s intelligence minister said.

Israel Katz, who runs both the Intelligence and Transportation ministries, spoke in a Reuters interview after North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in agreed to work for a “complete denuclearization” of the peninsula at a summit meeting in Seoul.

Such a development, should it come to fruition, could have a larger impact of minimizing the threat of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, Katz said.

The 2015 Iran Nuclear agreement, which Israel’s government vehemently opposed, is in danger of unraveling should U.S. President Donald Trump decide by May 12 to restore U.S. economic sanctions against Iran.

Trump has called the accord the worst deal ever negotiated and threatened to reimpose the U.S. penalties unless Britain, France and Germany can fix its “flaws.” The deal lifted economic sanctions on Iran in return for curbing its nuclear program.

“He (Trump) will have more power against Iran now and maybe to convince the European Union not to be the weak link in the coalition,” Katz said.

“I think it will be very good if the North Koreans will finish and go out of the nuclear business and capabilities. It will also be good to our region, because there is a connection,” he said.

Katz said the connection between Iran and North Korea pertains to missile technology.

“Yes, I think there is cooperation as it belongs to developing the ballistic missiles. And we have the evidence,” he said.

“We have a lot of evidence,” Katz added, shrugging his shoulders without elaborating.

Russia, China, Germany, Britain and France, which all struck the accord with Iran and the United States, see the deal as the best way to stop Iran from developing a nuclear bomb.

During his state visit earlier this week with Trump in Washington, French President Emmanuel Macron called for the U.S. not to abandon the deal and said a new package of terms was being prepared with Britain and Germany.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel held a one-day working visit with Trump on Friday, where she was careful to praise Trump’s progress on North Korea.

“I think that now we have to be very tough with Iran,” said Katz, who wants to succeed Netanyahu as Israel’s next prime minister.

REGIONAL CONFLICTS

While Iran’s nuclear capabilities are curtailed for the time being, Katz reiterated that Israel would remain vigilant in seeking to curb Tehran’s increased activities in Syria.

On April 9, an air strike killed seven Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps members at a Syrian base. Tehran blamed Israel and vowed unspecified retaliation, drawing Israeli counter-threats to broaden attacks on Iranian military assets in Syria.

The Israelis have said their strikes aim to prevent Iran’s garrison in Syria from entrenching itself deeper in support of President Bashar al-Assad and linking with Hezbollah in Lebanon to form a broad front against them.

“Iranians don’t have to be in Syria. It is not to say we are going to attack every Iranian soldier in Syria, but bases, military bases, and munitions bases, and sophisticated missiles and other things like that? Yes,” he said.

Russia, a key ally of Assad, has said it would provide advanced weapons to Syria. Israel is concerned that might include the S-300 surface-to-air missile system, which military analysts say would improve Russia’s ability to control air space in Syria.

“They are talking about to supply advanced missiles, but they didn’t say the words S-300,” Katz said.

“Personally, it is hard for me to believe that Putin will give them the S-300,” he said. “Because this is his main card that he is holding now in the discussions with Israel ... If he will give them the S-300, about what can he talk about with us afterward?” (Reporting by Daniel Bases Editing by Tom Brown)

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