Israel "utterly rejects" emerging Iran nuclear deal

Nov 8, 2013 5:38 AM

JERUSALEM (CBS) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday that he "utterly rejects" the emerging nuclear deal between western powers and Iran, calling it a "bad deal" and promising that Israel will do everything it needs to do to defend itself.

Israel believes Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon, and says international pressure should be stepped up, not eased, in order to force Iran to dismantle its nuclear program. Netanyahu has repeatedly threatened to attack Iran, unilaterally if necessary, if he concludes that diplomatic pressure on Iran has failed.

He spoke before meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Kerry returned to Tel Aviv from Jordan to speak with Netanyahu before flying to Switzerland to participate in nuclear talks with Iran.

Kerry's decision to fly to Geneva comes after signs that global powers and Iran were close to a deal that would cap some of Iran's suspected nuclear program in exchange for limited relief from economic sanctions.

Speaking to reporters in Geneva, a spokesman for European Union High Commissioner Katherine Ashton, who is leading the negotiations with the Iranians, described a one-hour meeting between the six global parties to the talks Friday morning as "very intense."

"We'll see how things progress," added spokesman Michael Mann. "There is no fixed timetable for today." Pressed by CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer to explain at least some of the details of the deal taking shape, Mann refused: "I can't say... I can just say we are making good progress."

Russia, one of the parties to the Iran talks alongside the United States, China, Britain, France and Germany, also took an optimistic tone Friday, with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov telling reporters in Moscow that it was possible a "road map" to ending the international standoff over Iran's nuclear program would be hammered out.

"I do not want to make any predictions but there is a chance that a common, unified approach will be agreed, including a 'road map' on finally ending this problem," he said according to the Reuters news agency.

On Thursday, a senior Obama administration official said the goal of the Geneva talks was to reach an "initial understanding that stops Iran's nuclear program from moving forward for the first time in decades, and that potentially rolls part of it back."

In exchange, the official said the U.S. and its partners were prepared to offer, "limited, targeted, and reversible sanctions relief."

The official cautioned, however, that there was no interest from Washington in, "touching the core architecture of the Iranian sanctions regime in this first step in any way. And if Iran does not live up to its obligations under the initial understanding, or if we cannot get a comprehensive agreement finalized, any economic relief we will have given Iran can, in fact, be reversed."

Iran denies any interest in nuclear arms.

While the world awaits confirmation of what concessions the West and the Iranians are actually prepared to make, Netanyahu was categorical in defining the emerging agreement as a victory for Tehran.

"I understand the Iranians are walking around very satisfied in Geneva -- as well they should because they got everything and paid nothing," Netanyahu told reporters.

"They wanted relief of sanctions after years of grueling sanctions, they got that. They paid nothing because they are not reducing in any way their nuclear enrichment capability. So Iran got the deal of the century and the international community got a bad deal," Netanyahu said.

"This is a very bad deal and Israel utterly rejects it. Israel is not obliged by this agreement and Israel will do everything it needs to do to defend itself and defend the security of its people," he said.

A State Department official said only that Kerry and Netanyahu met one on one for two hours and 15 minutes.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki confirmed Kerry would go Geneva to meet Friday with the European Union's top diplomat, Catherine Ashton, and Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Israel considers a nuclear-armed Iran to be an existential threat, citing hostile Iranian rhetoric toward the Jewish state, Iran's missile capabilities and its support for violent Middle Eastern militant groups.

Netanyahu says pressure must be maintained until Iran halts all enrichment of uranium, a key step in producing a nuclear weapon; removes its stockpile of enriched uranium from the country; closes suspicious enrichment facilities and shutters a facility that could produce plutonium, another potential gateway to nuclear arms.

Despite Netanyahu's warnings, there are growing signs that any international deal with Iran will fall short of his demands.

The Iranian nuclear program will likely to dominate Friday's meeting, overshadowing Kerry's efforts to revive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

A senior state department official said that Kerry has been open to the possibility of traveling to Geneva for the talks "if it would help narrow differences."

The official said Ashton asked Kerry to attend the latest round of discussions. The official called the negotiations "a complex process" and said Kerry was "committed to doing anything he can" to help.

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