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Netanyahu Continues to Press US for Better Deal on Iran


FILE - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement to the media in Jerusalem, April 1, 2015.
FILE - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement to the media in Jerusalem, April 1, 2015.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu again urged the United States on Sunday to seek a better deal to curb Iran's nuclear program and said he would press American lawmakers not to give Tehran "a free path to the bomb."

Netanyahu said he has spoken with both Democrats and Republicans in Congress - nearly two thirds of House of Representatives members and a similar number in the U.S. Senate - about the Iran nuclear issue.

The Israeli prime minister has been strongly critical of the framework agreement struck on Thursday between world powers and Iran, saying it threatens the survival of Israel.

In appearances on U.S. television on Sunday, Netanyahu did not repeat his assertion on Friday that any final agreement should include a commitment by Iran recognizing Israel's right to exist.

"This is not a partisan issue. This is not solely an Israeli issue," Netanyahu said of the interim nuclear agreement, speaking on CNN's State of the Union program.

'World issue'

"This is a world issue because everyone is going to be threatened by the pre-eminent terrorist state of our time, keeping the infrastructure to produce not one nuclear bomb but many, many nuclear bombs down the line," he said.

"There's still time to get a better deal and apply pressure to Iran to roll back its nuclear program," he said on CNN.

Also appearing on CNN, Senator Dianne Feinstein, a leading Democratic voice on foreign affairs, said she did not believe the agreement threatened Israel, and had harsh words for Netanyahu.

"I don't think it's helpful for Israel to come out and oppose this one opportunity to change a major dynamic which is downhill, a downhill dynamic in this part of the world," said Feinstein.

Netanyahu, on NBC's Meet the Press, said, "I'm not trying to kill any deal. I'm trying to kill a bad deal."

'Committed to our promises'

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, speaking Saturday on Iranian state-run television, said Tehran would be able to return to its current level of nuclear activity if the West withdraws from the nuclear deal that is scheduled to be finalized in June.

"We will prove to the world that we are committed to our promises and will show the world that others are seeking pretext against us. However, any time our national interests are harmed because of violation by the other side, we will decide how to act," Zarif said.

"Any time a deal is finalized, we will definitely reserve ourselves this option - that if the other side violates the agreement within a period of less than two months, we can return [to our current level of nuclear activities]," he added.

Zarif also said Iran told U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry during negotiations in Lausanne last week to stop using the words "lift" and "suspend" when referring to the termination of sanctions against Iran once its adheres to the deal.

He said the words were confusing and that the deal now says all sanctions will be terminated.

Zarif said "the moment" the International Atomic Energy Agency confirms Iran was complying with the nuclear accord, the U.S. would have to end all economic and financial sanctions against Iran.

'Good deal'

U.S. President Barack Obama said the framework nuclear deal reached with Iran was a "good deal" that was reached through "tough, principled diplomacy."

In his weekly address Saturday, Obama said Iran has agreed to "not stockpile" the materials needed to build a weapon.

The president noted that "international inspectors will have unprecedented access to Iran's nuclear program because Iran will face more inspections than any other country. If Iran cheats, the world will know it. ... This deal is not based on trust, it's based on unprecedented verification."

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said the framework agreement reached with world powers would protect Iran's nuclear rights and provide relief from international sanctions.

In a televised address to the nation Friday, Rouhani said the agreement was an acceptance of Iran's right to enrich uranium on its own territory, saying the country would be pursing peaceful goals. He said centrifuges had to "spin," while "peoples' lives and the economy have to move forward."

He also said the development of Iran's nuclear program was not against any specific country.

The Iranian president vowed that Iran would honor all of its pledges in the agreement "as long as the other side honors its promises as well."

Thursday's framework deal between Iran and six world powers is designed to provide relief from international sanctions in exchange for curbs on Tehran's nuclear program.

The agreement was more than five years in the making and came at the end of eight days of intensive talks in Lausanne, Switzerland. It sets the stage for a final agreement to be completed by June 30.


Meanwhile, the White House said Obama was speaking about the framework deal with all four leaders of Congress, where Republican lawmakers skittish about an agreement have threatened to pass new sanctions against Iran.

White House spokesman Eric Schultz said Republican criticism of the deal has been "mostly thoughtful."

Schultz also said Obama would never approve a deal that was a threat to Israel. The spokesman said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's concerns about the deal have been raised and "we understand his position."

Netanyahu is one of the biggest opponents of the nuclear talks. Israeli officials said the prime minister told Obama in a phone conversation on Thursday the deal would "threaten the survival of Israel."

Skeptics, including Israel and Saudi Arabia, said the United States and its partners would be giving Iran too many concessions and leave it with the means to build a nuclear weapon.

In a phone call with Obama, Saudi King Salman voiced hope a final settlement on the nuclear dispute would "strengthen the stability and security of the region and the world," official Saudi media reported on Friday.

Iranians' response

Iranians cheered the framework agreement with world powers.

Foreign Minister Zarif returned Friday to a festive crowd of supporters in Tehran, some of whom held signs saying, "Long live Doctor Zarif, Long Live (Iranian President Hassan) Rouhani."

After the deal was announced Thursday, hundreds of Iranians took to the streets of Tehran, honking their car horns and waving flags, amid fresh hopes the country's international isolation would soon end.

Speaking from the White House on Thursday, Obama praised the agreement as "historic," saying if fully implemented, it will make the world safer and cut off Iran's path to a bomb. He said the deal "meets our core objectives."

Under the deal, Iran's breakout time, the minimum amount required to produce a nuclear bomb, will be extended "to at least one year, for a duration of 10 years," according to a U.S. fact sheet. The breakout time is currently estimated to be two to three months.

Graphic showing Uranium enrichment process
Graphic showing Uranium enrichment process

‚ÄčTehran also agreed to reduce by about two-thirds the amount of its installed uranium enrichment centrifuges. "Iran will go from having about 19,000 installed today to 6,104 installed under the deal, with only 5,060 of these enriching uranium for 10 years," according to the fact sheet.

The deal requires Iran to neutralize much of its stockpile of highly enriched uranium. U.N. nuclear inspections will be boosted. The Fordo underground nuclear facility will be converted so that it cannot enrich uranium. Iran also agreed to redesign its Arak reactor to not produce weapons-grade plutonium.

Iran has repeatedly said it is not interested in building a nuclear bomb, and the country's Islamic leaders have issued rulings banning such weapons; but, the moves have not been able to persuade Western critics who say certain elements of Iran's nuclear program have no clear non-weapons-related utility.

Some material for this report came from AP and Reuters.

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