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Netanyahu condemns agreement

Limits fall short of Israel's demand that Iranian nuclear program be dismantled.

JERUSALEM - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the international community's framework nuclear agreement with Iran early Friday, putting him on a collision course with the United States and other close allies as the world tries to close in on a final deal in the coming months.

Netanyahu, who had been outspoken critic of the world's negotiations with Iran, said he voiced his "strong opposition" to the deal, negotiated by world powers and Iran in Lausanne, Switzerland, in a phone call with President Obama. "A deal based on this framework would threaten the survival of Israel," he said.

But with the deal being welcomed around the globe, Netanyahu could have a tough time trying to rally opposition to it as it is finalized ahead of a June 30 deadline. His best bet could lie with the Republican-dominated U.S. Congress.

Netanyahu believes Iran is trying to develop a nuclear bomb - a concern that has been shared by much of the world. He considers a nuclear-armed Iran a threat to Israel's very existence, given Iranian leaders' calls for the destruction of the Jewish state, Iran's support for hostile militant groups across the region and its development of long-range ballistic missiles.

The framework deal includes a system of limits and inspections on Iranian nuclear facilities, but falls short of Israeli demands to dismantle the program. Netanyahu believes Iran cannot be trusted, and that leaving certain facilities intact would allow the Iranians to reach the capability of building a bomb.

"Such a deal would not block Iran's path to the bomb. It would pave it," Netanyahu said.

Yuval Steinitz, his cabinet minister who monitors the Iranian nuclear program, said Israel would continue to push to cancel or at least improve the deal as it is finalized ahead of a June 30 deadline.

Last month, Netanyahu harshly criticized the emerging agreement in a speech to the U.S. Congress, enraging the White House because the visit was arranged behind its back with Republican lawmakers.

But the speech, and furious Israeli lobbying to other participants in the Iran talks, appeared to have made little difference.

Britain, Germany, France, and Italy - all key European allies and all directly or indirectly involved in the negotiations in Switzerland- welcomed the deal.

"We are closer than ever to an agreement that makes it impossible for Iran to possess nuclear weapons," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said. "That is a great credit to all negotiating partners."

French President Francois Hollande saluted the work of the foreign ministers, but cautioned that sanctions remained on the horizon if the final agreement set for June 30 were not respected.

Russia, another participant in the talks, said the deal could have a "positive influence" on the region. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the framework "paves the way" for a historic agreement that could "contribute to peace and stability in the region."

In Washington, Obama, who has had a rocky relationship with Netanyahu over Iran and other matters, tried to soothe Israeli concerns. At a news conference, he called the deal "the best option" for preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

In his phone call with Netanyahu, Obama said the framework would bring a deal "that cuts off all of Iran's pathways to a bomb," according to the White House. It said the deal "in no way diminishes" U.S. concerns about "Iran's sponsorship of terrorism and threats toward Israel" or America's commitment to Israel's security.

In the Iranian capital of Tehran, hundreds of drivers began honking and flashing their headlights after the deal was announced. Many motorists, returning home from the Nowruz holiday, the Persian New Year, got out of their cars and began dancing and singing in celebration.