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Iran Leader Says Tel Aviv at Risk If Israel Makes Mistake

March 21 (Bloomberg) -- Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said his country will raze Tel Aviv and Haifa if Israel makes “any mistake,” after President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met to discuss the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.

“The heads of the Zionist regime should know that in case of any mistake against Iran, Iran will level down Tel Aviv and Haifa,” Khamenei said in a message from the city of Mashhad aired on state television to mark the Nowrouz festival, the start of the Iranian new year.

Israel has the right to “defend itself, by itself,” Netanyahu said yesterday, the latest warning that his country may launch a military strike against Iran. The U.S. will do whatever is necessary to prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon, Obama said.

Khamenei, the highest authority in the Islamic Republic, spoke as international sanctions spearheaded by the U.S. are targeting Iran’s trade, banking and energy industry. While the U.S. administration has argued that the sanctions should be given time to work, Obama said yesterday that there was “not a lot of daylight” between the U.S. and Israel on the issue.

The Iranian leader mixed hostile rhetoric with more conciliatory language, saying that while he did not oppose direct talks with the U.S., he wasn’t optimistic about the possible outcome. The country’s enemies sought to paralyze it through sanctions, though the policy would fail if Iran managed to cut its dependence on oil, Khamenei said.

Possible Breakthrough

Iran sees for the first time a possible breakthrough in negotiations with six world powers next month over its nuclear program, its United Nations ambassador, Mohammad Khazaee, said in an interview March 18 at Bloomberg’s New York headquarters.

Talks in Kazakhstan with the U.S., the U.K., France, China, Germany and Russia marked a “turning point” where the U.S. and five other world powers seemed “more realistic” about Iran’s bottom-line position that it has a right to enrich uranium for peaceful use, he said.

Netanyahu said yesterday he was “absolutely convinced” of Obama’s resolve in preventing Iran from building a nuclear bomb, adding that diplomatic and economic pressure must be backed up by a “clear and credible threat of military action.” The two leaders said they were in accord on the timeline of about a year for Iran’s progress toward being able to build a nuclear weapon.

Obama arrived in Tel Aviv yesterday for his first visit to Israel as president and the first foreign trip of his second term. By visiting Israel, the U.S. president is seeking to reassure Israelis about his commitment to their country’s security following tension with Netanyahu over Jewish settlements, the peace process and dealing with Iran.

To contact the reporters on this story: Yeganeh Salehi in Tehran at yalehi@bloomberg.net; Caroline Alexander in London at calexander1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net

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