JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched an intensive campaign on Sunday to convince world powers to toughen terms of a proposed nuclear deal with Iran ahead of negotiations reconvening this week in Geneva.
After meeting Francois Hollande on Sunday as part of a three-day state visit by the French president, Netanyahu was scheduled to travel to Moscow to see Russian President Vladimir Putin and return to Israel to meet U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday.
Netanyahu has condemned a proposal, to be discussed in a third round of talks between six world powers and Tehran on Nov. 20 - 23, to ease economic sanctions on Iran if it suspends parts of its nuclear program.
“I hope that we will be able to persuade our friends during this week and in the days that follow to get a much better agreement,” Netanyahu said in public remarks at the start of a weekly cabinet meeting.
Netanyahu says tough measures must not only remain but be strengthened until Iran dismantles its entire uranium enrichment program, arguing that anything less would enable it to develop nuclear bombs.
His position has found support in the U.S. Congress, where legislation to impose tough new sanctions could come to the Senate floor in the coming week.
The prime minister said the issue would top the agenda in his talks with Hollande. Israel has praised France for taking a tough stance in the previous round.
Hollande opposes lifting any sanctions on Iran until it provides further guarantees that it is not pursuing atomic weapons. Tehran accuses France of blocking an agreement.
At a welcoming ceremony at Tel Aviv airport attended by Netanyahu, Hollande said France was taking Israel's concerns into account on the Iranian issue, adding in Hebrew: “I will always remain a friend of Israel.”
Kerry has caused a stir in Israel by accusing it of over-reacting in its opposition to the proposed deal.
“John Kerry is a old friend of mine and is also a friend of Israel,” Netanyahu said, voicing a more conciliatory tone than at the end of an acrimonious visit by the top U.S. diplomat last week.
“I want to clarify that even among the best of friends there can be disagreements, certainly on matters that concern our future and our destiny,” the Israeli leader said.
Netanyahu has said he would not be bound by the terms of the Iran deal and reiterated that Israel, widely believed to have the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal, could take military action if it thought Iran was close to getting an atomic bomb.
Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
In Washington on Friday, a senior U.S. official said that a deal was “quite possible” at the upcoming talks in Geneva although tough issues remained unresolved.
“For the first time in nearly a decade, we are getting close to a first step... that would stop the Iranian nuclear program from advancing and roll it back in key areas,” the official told reporters on condition of anonymity.
U.S. President Barack Obama has urged U.S. lawmakers not to impose new sanctions on Iran while talks continue.
Relations with close allies Israel and the United States have also been strained recently over the lack of progress in peace talks with Palestinians.
Kerry has censured Israeli settlement building in the occupied West Bank, and Hollande's aides said he would also convey his disapproval of settlement expansion.