By MATTHEW LEE and IAN DEITCH
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday that he “utterly rejects” the emerging nuclear deal between western powers and Iran, calling it a “bad deal” and promising that Israel will do everything it needs to do to defend itself.
Israel believes Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon, and says international pressure should be stepped up, not eased, in order to force Iran to dismantle its nuclear program. Netanyahu has repeatedly threatened to attack Iran, unilaterally if necessary, if he concludes that diplomatic pressure on Iran has failed.
He spoke before meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Kerry returned to Tel Aviv from Jordan to speak with Netanyahu before flying to Switzerland to participate in nuclear talks with Iran.
Kerry’s decision to fly to Geneva comes after signs that global powers and Iran were close to a deal that would cap some of Iran’s suspected nuclear program in exchange for limited relief from economic sanctions.
A State Department official said only that Kerry and Netanyahu met one on one for two hours and 15 minutes.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki confirmed Kerry would go Geneva to meet Friday with the European Union’s top diplomat, Catherine Ashton, and Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif.
Israel considers a nuclear-armed Iran to be an existential threat, citing hostile Iranian rhetoric toward the Jewish state, Iran’s missile capabilities and its support for violent Middle Eastern militant groups.
Netanyahu says pressure must be maintained until Iran halts all enrichment of uranium, a key step in producing a nuclear weapon; removes its stockpile of enriched uranium from the country; closes suspicious enrichment facilities and shutters a facility that could produce plutonium, another potential gateway to nuclear arms.
Despite Netanyahu’s warnings, there are growing signs that any international deal with Iran will fall short of his demands.
The Iranian nuclear program will likely to dominate Friday’s meeting, overshadowing Kerry’s efforts to revive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
A senior state department official said that Kerry has been open to the possibility of traveling to Geneva for the talks “if it would help narrow differences.”
The official said Ashton asked Kerry to attend the latest round of discussions. The official called the negotiations “a complex process” and said Kerry was “committed to doing anything he can” to help.