WASHINGTON - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday an extension of nuclear talks with Iran should be used to further increase pressure on the country to give up its atomic weapons ambitions and capabilities. His comments came as Secretary of State John Kerry cited movement in the negotiations and urged patience while vowing that the process would not continue without "tangible progress."
Speaking to the same Mideast policy conference in Washington, Netanyahu and Kerry pointed to cooperation between moderate Arab states and others in the fight against Islamic State extremists as a potential hopeful sign for defeating the group and improving prospects for Arab-Israeli peace. But, they also noted tremendous hurdles in achieving those goals.
Netanyahu said it was fortunate that negotiators from the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany did not meet last month's deadline for a deal with Iran because he said an agreement reached then "would have effectively left Iran as a threshold nuclear power."
Those talks have been extended until July 2015, with the goal of reaching a framework for a deal by the end of March.
Netanyahu said Israel's "voice" and "concerns" had played a critical role in preventing a bad deal from being reached in November. He added it is imperative to use the extra time to step up and reinforce demands that Iran prove its nuclear program is peaceful as it claims and not as many suspect a cover for atomic weapons development.
"Now we must use the time available to increase the pressure on Iran to dismantle its nuclear weapons capability," he said in a videotaped message to the conference at The Brookings Institution.
Netanyahu did not elaborate on how the pressure should be increased. Some Israeli officials and U.S. lawmakers have called for the U.S. to impose more sanctions on Iran but the Obama administration is resisting this, saying more sanctions would violate the terms of an interim agreement reached with Iran and crater the ongoing negotiations.
In his remarks, which followed Netanyahu's taped speech, Kerry acknowledged differences between Israel and the United States on how to approach Iran but stressed that the two countries' goals are the same.