Iran’s nuclear drive directly threatens the future of Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told CNN in an interview to be broadcast on Sunday morning.
Acknowledging “differences of opinion” with the Obama administration over the way to best thwart Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions and over the terms offered by the P5+1 nations at the Geneva negotiations, Netanyahu said “the best of friends” can have differences, and emphasized his conviction that the Iranian program poses an existential threat to Israel.
Iran’s bid for the bomb “threatens directly the future of the Jewish state,” he said, in a short preview clip of the interview broadcast on CNN on Saturday. As the prime minister of Israel, he stressed, he had to care for “the survival of my country.”
CNN reported that Netanyahu also said in the interview that he would do whatever it was necessary to do in order to protect Israel.
Ahead of the resumption of the Geneva talks on Wednesday, Netanyahu on Friday had urged France to remain firm in its pressure on Iran.
His comments, made during an interview with France’s Le Figaro, came two days before French President Francois Hollande’s high-profile visit to Israel, his first trip to the country as head of state.
Netanyahu told Le Figaro that Israel stands behind France and called on Hollande “not to waver” on its objections to an interim nuclear deal with Iran. ”We hope that France will not yield in its stance toward Iran,” Netanyahu told the French daily.
In last week’s talks in Geneva between Iran and the US, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany — the so-called P5+1 — Paris’s tough position on Iran was said to have prevented the global powers from signing an interim agreement with Tehran, one that would have included limited sanctions relief in return for a partial freeze of the country’s nuclear program. France apparently blocked what its foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, called “a sucker’s deal,” although US Secretary of State John Kerry said it was the Iranians who chose not to sign the accord last Saturday, and US officials say a deal on the terms presented at Geneva could be signed when the talks resume on Wednesday.
Netanyahu restated the government’s opposition to Iran maintaining a heavy water reactor (at Arak) and its maintenances of centrifuges that could be used to enrich uranium even to low levels. The Geneva offer reportedly allows Iran to continue enriching uranium to 3.5%. The Iranian regime has contended that it seeks nuclear energy for domestic programs, not for the development of nuclear weapons.
Earlier Friday, a senior US official told reporters that it was “quite possible” the P5+1 powers and Iran could reach an agreement when diplomats reconvene in Geneva.
Also Friday, Netanyahu took to Twitter to keep up pressure on Western powers over negotiations with Iran on its contested nuclear program and to warn against rushing into a “bad deal.”
Netanyahu has been increasingly vocal in recent days about his opposition to a potential deal between six Western powers and Iran that would ease some sanctions while still leaving Iran with uranium-enrichment capabilities. Netanyahu has said he utterly rejects the brewing agreement and has been lobbying American allies in Congress to keep up sanctions.
Netanyahu is said to be open to an interim agreement with Iran, in principle, but only if it entails a complete cessation of uranium enrichment by the Iranians — in exchange for which the international community could offer not to add additional sanctions. Earlier this week, an unnamed official who insisted on anonymity told The Times of Israel that the prime minister would be willing to consider “a real freeze for a real freeze” on Iran’s nuclear program.
Raphael Ahren and The Associated Press contributed to this report.