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Netanyahu Urges Negotiators to Seek Better Deal With Iran

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu & French Pres. Francois Hollande
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, chats with French President Francois Hollande upon Hollande's arrival to Tel Aviv on November 17, 2013 for a three-day visit. Photographer: Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images

Negotiators with Iran should demand a better deal than the one discussed in Geneva, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said today, insisting that an Iran with nuclear capability directly threatens both Israel and Europe.

“I hope that we will succeed in convincing our friends this week to reach a much better deal,” Netanyahu said in comments broadcast on Army Radio before the weekly Cabinet meeting. “Iran is under economic pressure and continuation of this pressure, or increasing it, can lead to a much better result of a diplomatic solution in a peaceful manner.”

U.S. President Barack Obama is seeking to offer Iran some relief on sanctions in exchange for progress in nuclear talks in Geneva scheduled to resume Nov. 20. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius undercut an accord last week by insisting that construction be halted at Arak, a heavy-water reactor that can produce plutonium, a material that could be used for weapons.

The Israeli leader greeted French President Francois Hollande upon his arrival at Ben-Gurion International Airport today and praised France’s “firm stance” in the Iran negotiations. Netanyahu travels to Russia Nov. 20 to discuss the Iran deal with President Vladimir Putin, then returns to Jerusalem to talk with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Nov. 22.

French Position

“France will not tolerate nuclear proliferation,” Hollande said at brief welcome ceremony. “As long as we are not certain that Iran has decided to give up on nuclear weapons, we will continue with all our demands and with sanctions.”

Iran is negotiating with a group known as the P5+1, made up of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- the U.S., U.K., France, Russia and China -- plus Germany.

Iran was offered a temporary easing of existing sanctions on petrochemicals, gold and auto trade and some access to frozen assets in exchange for limited restrictions on its nuclear work, according to diplomats who asked not to be identified because they weren’t authorized to comment.

Netanyahu said last week the Geneva negotiators were working toward a “bad and dangerous” deal and Iran stood to gain billions of dollars if sanctions are eased under the proposal being discussed in Geneva.

Israeli Survival

“Iran maintaining its nuclear weapons capability, that is, the capacity to produce nuclear weapons, threatens directly the future of the Jewish state,” Netanyahu said in an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” broadcast today. “I’m the prime minister of Israel and I have to care for the survival of my country.”

Netanyahu said it would be a mistake to offer a partial easing of sanctions because that would water down Iran’s incentive to curtail its nuclear program further.

“You’re going to get investors, companies and countries scrambling one after the other to try to get deals with Iran, because economies and prices work on future expectations,” Netanyahu said.

Although Netanyahu has talked about taking military action against Iran, he said he prefers a diplomatic solution that is revised to keep pressure on the Islamic republic.

“Who wouldn’t?,” he told CNN. “Israel has the most to gain from a peaceful diplomatic solution, because we’re on the firing line, any way you look at it. So we need a good solution, and that’s the main point.”

Amid the spiraling rhetoric, chances of an Israeli strike to halt Iran’s nuclear program aren’t high, said Jonathan Spyer, a political scientist at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.

Diplomatic Positioning

Netanyahu’s comments are “more about diplomatic positioning than imminent attack,” Spyer said. “There has been a dictum in Israeli security that Israel doesn’t go to war unless it has one serious global power behind it, and right now that wouldn’t be the case.”

The U.S. and Israel say uranium enrichment in Iran and the construction of a reactor capable of producing plutonium would help the Islamic Republic develop the capability to produce nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful medical and energy uses.

Israel isn’t alone in its concern over the developing deal in Geneva, according to the Sunday Times. The U.K. newspaper today reported Saudi Arabia is working with the Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency on a contingency plan for a possible attack on Iran if the nuclear program isn’t significantly curbed.

Saudi Cooperation

As part of the growing cooperation, Riyadh is understood to have given the go-ahead for Israeli planes to use its airspace in the event of an attack on Iran, the Sunday Times said, citing an unidentified diplomatic source.

There was no immediate response from the prime minister’s office to the report.

While an attack on Iran by its Middle Eastern neighbors may not be imminent, the possibility “shouldn’t be dismissed and notice should be taken of the gap between U.S. thinking and the thinking of its two most important regional allies -- Israel and Saudi Arabia,” Spyer said.

Israeli President Shimon Peres said the Geneva meeting was only a first step and pressure on Iran “must not be allowed to let up,” according to an interview with French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche.

“One thing we’re convinced of, is that if Iran makes a bomb, all the other countries of the Middle East will want to do the same thing,” he was quoted by the newspaper as saying.

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