Former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy spoke out in favor of US President Barack Obama’s strategy for coping with Iran through sanctions and diplomacy, while criticizing Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney for taking an extreme position.

“The goal of economic sanctions is to convince Iran’s leaders to abandon their nuclear drive, not to prepare the ground for a military strike,” Halevy said in an interview to Israel Radio Monday morning.

Halevy said that if it wasn’t for Obama’s “brave” strategy, Tehran would not now be facing a severe economic crisis. He added that engaging in negotiations with Iran doesn’t mean putting aside sanctions.

The former head of Israel’s spy agency criticized Romney’s policy on Iran, arguing that the Republican challenger’s refusal to hold talks with Tehran leaves no room for any options other than conducting a military strike.

The candidates’ strategies for thwarting Iran’s nuclear drive are expected to take center stage in the third presidential debate, set to take place Monday evening in Boca Raton, Florida, which is dedicated to foreign policy.

On Sunday, Halevy said in an interview with Al-Monitor that Israel and the US must engage in a dialogue with Iran to understand how their adversaries think.

“In order to be effective with one’s enemies, you have to have two essential capabilities: To overcome them by force if necessary… and do everything you can to get into their minds and try to understand how they see things… and where, if at all, there is room for common ground of one kind or another,” said Halevy. “I think that what we have had over the years is an abundance of one side, and a dearth of the other.”

Halevy made his comments following the Saturday publication of a New York Times report that claimed that Iran had agreed to hold direct talks with the US over its uranium enrichment program following the US elections. The report has since been denied by both the White House and Tehran.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday denied knowledge of the agreement.

“I have no information about such contacts and I cannot say whether there is truth in the report,” said the prime minister. “I can say, though, that Iran has used negotiations [before] to buy time with America,” he added.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman told Army Radio Sunday that he preferred to believe the White House denial of the report rather than the report itself.

“I want to believe the White House denial, and I want to believe that they learn from experience,” Liberman said. “All the Iranians want to achieve through direct negotiations is the removal of sanctions.”

However, Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon told Israel Radio that Jerusalem has known for some time of behind-the-scenes contact between the US and Iran, and that it has no objections. Ya’alon said that direct talks would receive Israel’s blessing if they bring an end to Iran’s nuclear program.