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Netanyahu Asks Biden to Press Iran on Nuclear Program

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told U.S. Vice President Joe Biden that Iran must face greater pressure to stop it from developing nuclear arms, his spokesman said. He also expressed hope that disputes that have stalled Middle East peace talks will be resolved.

Biden, speaking to a convention of Jewish groups in New Orleans yesterday after meeting with the Israeli leader, said he told Netanyahu that President Barack Obama won’t allow Iran to build a nuclear arsenal.

“We continue to seek a peaceful resolution but, let me be very clear about this, we are absolutely committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons,” Biden said.

Netanyahu stressed Israel’s concern about Iran during a 90-minute meeting with Biden after arriving in New Orleans to start a five-day trip to the U.S. He is scheduled to meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Nov. 11 to discuss how to get the Palestinians back in talks after disputes over West Bank settlements, Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev said.

Netanyahu is scheduled to speak today to the same audience Biden addressed at the General Assembly of Jewish Federations of North America, where he will focus on the threat a nuclear Iran poses to Israel, Regev said.

“Sanctions are important and they are increasing pressure on Iran,” Regev said. “But so far there has not been any change in the behavior of Iran and upgrading of international pressure is necessary.”

Israeli Settlements

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas says he won’t continue talks if Israel keeps building settlements. He is scheduled to meet leaders of the Arab League tomorrow to explore the option of seeking recognition for Palestinian statehood from the United Nations Security Council if Netanyahu doesn’t renew the limited building freeze he imposed last year.

That meeting may be postponed for a few days, Palestinian negotiators say. Abbas is willing to give the U.S. another “two or three weeks” to save the peace talks, chief negotiator Saeb Erakat said after meeting Obama’s Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, in Washington on Nov. 4.

“The government of Israel is committed to achieving an historic reconciliation with the Palestinians and believes the way to bring that about is through the immediate resumption of direct talks,” Regev said. “There is no substitute.”

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, whose party is Netanyahu’s largest coalition partner, said that should talks resume he would do everything in his power to stop the Israeli leader from reaching an agreement with the Palestinians on borders before security arrangements are determined.

“It would be a dramatic mistake, a historic mistake, and a strategic mistake to decide on borders before security issues are discussed,” Lieberman said on Israeli Army Radio today.

New York Meetings

After leaving New Orleans today, Netanyahu, 61, will spend the rest of the trip in New York, where he plans to meet with Clinton and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Regev said. He is scheduled to fly back to Israel on Nov. 11.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said in Georgia Nov. 3 that Iran is ready to hold talks on its nuclear program with the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany in Istanbul or Geneva starting Nov. 10.

Uranium enrichment is the key issue in the international dispute over Iran’s nuclear program, with Iran maintaining the right to produce the material and the U.S. leading efforts to force Iran to abandon the work.

Enriched uranium can fuel a reactor and at higher concentrations form the core of a bomb. Iran denies claims by the U.S. and many of its allies that the nuclear program may be providing cover for the development of weapons.

Clinton, Mitchell

Clinton, traveling in New Zealand last week, said she is working “nonstop” with Mitchell and other aides to salvage the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Obama kicked the talks off with a White House ceremony Sept. 1, only to watch them stall when the 10-month partial freeze on new West Bank settlements expired on Sept. 26.

Netanyahu and Abbas, 75, had agreed to try to reach a framework agreement within 12 months that would cover issues at the core of the conflict, including the borders of a future Palestinian state, security arrangements for Israel and the right of Palestinian refugees to return.

Netanyahu has no meetings scheduled with the likely new U.S. House speaker, John Boehner, or other top Republicans, who won’t assume their leadership positions until the new year. He may, though, “be in situations where he meets at least part of the new leadership” on an informal basis during the trip, said Zalman Shoval, an adviser and former ambassador to the U.S.

About 500,000 Jews have moved to the West Bank and east Jerusalem since Israel captured the territories in the 1967 Middle East war. The UN says that settlements are illegal. Israel says the territory isn’t occupied because it wasn’t recognized as belonging to anyone before the 1967 war.

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