Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the press at Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv on November 8, 2013
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the press at Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv on November 8, 2013 © Debbie Hill - Pool/AFP/File
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the press at Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv on November 8, 2013
AFP
Last updated: November 10, 2013

Netanyahu: Easing Iran sanctions like "putting hole in tire"

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Israel launched a diplomatic offensive Sunday to avert a "bad and dangerous" deal with Iran over its nuclear programme, including by pressuring the US Congress.

World powers failed to clinch a deal with Iran in three days of talks in Geneva, but top diplomats said they were closing in on an interim deal that would freeze or curb some of Iran's nuclear activities in exchange for the easing of some sanctions on Tehran.

But Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had told US, Russian, French, German and British leaders -- five of the six world powers negotiating with Iran -- "that according to the information reaching Israel, the looming agreement is bad and dangerous."

Netanyahu said the deal would remove sanctions on Iran while still enabling it to enrich uranium and advance work on a plutonium reactor -- a second possible route to an atomic bomb.

"I asked them what was the rush? I suggested they wait, and seriously consider things," Netanyahu said at the opening of Israel's weekly cabinet meeting.

"I hope they reach a good agreement, and we will do all we can to convince world powers to avoid a bad deal."

Economy Minister Naftali Bennett said Israel "will lobby dozens of members of the US Congress, to whom I will personally explain during a visit beginning on Tuesday that Israel's security is in jeopardy."

Other senior Israeli officials had also warned against rushing to any agreement, arguing that the sanctions were succeeding in wearing down Tehran and should be given more time.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, who took part in the Geneva talks, insisted Washington was neither "blind" nor "stupid" when it comes to Iran's nuclear ambitions, and was fully committed to Israel's security.

"I think we have a pretty strong sense of how to measure whether or not we are acting in the interests of our country and of the globe, and particularly of our allies like Israel and Gulf states and others in the region," Kerry told NBC's "Meet the Press."

Senior US official Wendy Sherman meanwhile travelled to Jerusalem to discuss the Geneva talks and "continuing our close coordination with Israel about our ongoing efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon," the State Department said.

'If we have no choice we will act'

Israel, the region's sole if undeclared nuclear power, views Iran's uranium enrichment programme as a guise for developing nuclear weapons and has not ruled out military action to halt it.

Netanyahu has sought to dampen the rising optimism about the talks following the election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, a reputed moderate who the Israeli leader views as a "wolf in sheep's clothing."

Iran, which denies seeking nuclear weapons, has fired back, daring Israel to declare its own suspected arsenal and sign on to the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

On Sunday Bennett said there were "differences" within US President Barack Obama's administration on reaching a deal with Iran and issued a dire warning if those favouring "concessions" won out.

"If in 10 years an atomic bomb hidden in a suitcase explodes in New York, or a nuclear missile hits Rome, one could say it is because of concessions that would have been made" to Iran, he said.

Bennett is likely to find support in the US Congress, whose approval would be required for the lifting of much of the sanctions, and where several lawmakers support maintaining and even strengthening the economic isolation of Iran.

Hawkish Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told CNN's "Face the Nation" Sunday that he feared "creating a North Korea-type situation in the Mideast, where we negotiate with Iran and one day you wake up... and you're going to have a nuclear Iran."

Israel's deputy defence minister, Danny Danon, meanwhile issued an unmistakable warning to on public radio, saying: "If we have no choice we will act -- that's why Israel has an air force."

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