STATE DEPARTMENT —
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says international efforts to restrict Iran's nuclear program must include a complete end to its enriching uranium. Talks underway appear aimed at allowing Iran to enrich some uranium at lower-grade levels.
Netanyahu says any agreement that allows Iran to continue to enrich uranium would threaten Israeli security by opening up the floodgates of nuclear proliferation.
"Unfortunately, the leading powers of the world are talking about leaving Iran with the capability to enrich uranium," he said. "I hope they do not do that because that would be a grave error."
He told a meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington that real security will only come with the destruction of all of Iran's centrifuges, its underground enrichment facilities, and its heavy-water reactor as well as stockpiles of enriched uranium.
"The greatest threat to our common security is that of a nuclear-armed Iran," he said. "We must prevent Iran from having the capability to produce nuclear weapons."
Tehran says its nuclear program is only for peaceful, civilian purposes. It is engaged in talks with the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council as well as Germany to limit that program in exchange for relief from some international sanctions.
U.S. officials involved in those talks say there is general agreement Iran will be allowed to retain some uranium enrichment. But that would be at levels far below Iran's 20 percent enriched uranium, which is just a few steps short of weapons-grade.
In a Monday meeting with Netanyahu at the White House, President Barack Obama said the U.S. commitment to preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon is absolute.
Secretary of State John Kerry told the pro-Israel AIPAC that Washington will not accept a bad deal just to have a deal with Iran.
"This is not a process that is about trusting Tehran," he said. "This is about testing Tehran. And you can be sure if Iran fails this test, America will not fail Israel."
Israel has long reserved the right to strike Iran militarily to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons. But Kerry said that is no guarantee of long-term security.
"Those who say strike and hit need to go look at what happens after you have done that," he said. "Whether that permanently eliminates the program or opens up all kinds of other possibilities including Iran leaving the nuclear proliferation treaty, not even allowing IAEA inspectors in, not living under any international regiment. That is a possibility. Only strong diplomacy can guarantee that a nuclear weapons program can go away. For good."
Israeli concerns about negotiating with Iran are shared by Saudi Arabia, two key allies Washington is working to reassure.
While attentive to those concerns, American University professor Hillary Mann Leverett says the Obama administration should not allow Israel and Saudi Arabia to block a potentially-historic re-engagement with Tehran.
She says, "The United States is going to have to say: 'Yes you are our allies but you can not stand in the way of critical U.S. interests.' Just as when Nixon went to China we kept Japan and Taiwan as allies but we didn't let them stand in the way of the biggest geopolitical prize of the century: going to China. The same thing has to happen with Iran."
In addition to Iran, Netanyahu differs with the Obama administration over important parts of a framework for peace with Palestinians, including the borders of a two-state solution and continued Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank.