Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that any easing of economic sanctions against Iran is ill-advised, and pressure need to be increased to stop its nuclear program.
"I think the pressure has to be maintained on Iran, even increased on Iran, until Iran actually stops "making nuclear weapons, Netanyahu said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "The question is not of hope. The question is of actual result. The result has to be the full dismantling of Iran's military nuclear program."
He said the sanctions were put in place for three specific reasons: Iran's terrorist actions; its aggression in the Persian Gulf; and its pursuit to produce weapons of mass destruction.
"I propose sticking by that," Netanyahu said. "That's the way to peacefully end Iran's nuclear-weapons program."
When asked whether Syrian President Bashar Assad should stay in power, versus a leader with jihadist ties, Netanyahu said he is holding out hope for another alternative.
"I think we want to end that tragedy," Netanyahu said of the humanitarian catastrophe in the country. "We want to end it in the best way that we don't have either an Iranian protectorate or a jihadist regime, a la Afghanistan, in Syria."
Despite Netanyahu's warnings, there are growing signs that any international deal with Iran will fall short of his demands.
Over the weekend, U.S. officials said the White House was debating whether to offer Iran the chance to recoup billions of dollars in frozen assets if it scales back its nuclear program. The plan would stop short of lifting sanctions, but could nonetheless provide Iran some relief.
In an interview broadcast Sunday on NBC, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said it was "premature" to talk of easing sanctions. But he stopped short of endorsing the tough Israeli line and suggested the U.S. would take a more incremental approach in response to concrete Iranian gestures.
Asked whether he was worried the U.S. might ease the sanctions prematurely, Netanyahu urged against a "partial deal" with Iran. "I don't advise doing that," he said on "Meet the Press."
Details from last week's talks in Geneva have remained tightly guarded, but short-range priorities have been made clear. The U.S. and allies seek to roll back Iran's highest-level uranium enrichment. Iran wants the West to start easing sanctions.
The Israeli daily Haaretz on Sunday reported what it said were the key Iranian proposals last week.
Citing an unidentified senior Israeli official who had been briefed by the Americans, the newspaper said that Iran is ready to halt all enrichment of 20 percent, limit lower-level enrichment of 5 percent and scale back the number of centrifuges it is operating for enrichment. It also claimed that Iran expressed willingness to reduce the operations of its most controversial nuclear facilities, and perhaps open them to unannounced inspections.
Netanyahu's office declined comment on the report, though it confirmed the U.S. has kept it updated on the nuclear talks.
The Yediot Ahronot daily newspaper said an "explosion" between Netanyahu and President Barack Obama appears to be inevitable. While Israeli officials are intrigued by the Iranian offer, it said "officials in the prime minister's inner circle harbor a deep concern ... that the American president is going to be prepared to ease sanctions on Iran even before the talks have been completed."
Ephraim Asculai, a former official of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission and currently a research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, said it was too early to talk of a gap between Israel and the United States because the U.S. position on a compromise was not yet clear. He said the most important thing is to prevent Iran from stalling while it moves forward with its weapons program.
But Yoel Guzansky, an Iran expert at the institute and a former national security aide in the prime minister's office, said there will always be a gap between the U.S. and Israel due to their different military capabilities and the level of threat they face.
Guzansky said Israeli officials realize that they will not get everything they seek, and are pressing a maximalist view in hopes of getting as many concessions out of Iran as possible.
"It appears that the Americans are interested in a scaled approach," he said. "Israel is very concerned about this and it has good reason to. It's afraid the deal will become a slippery slope," he said.
However, Guzansky said Israel has little choice but to rely on the U.S. If there is a deal, it will all but rule out the possibility of unilateral Israeli military action, he said.
"Israel really only has one option," he said. "The chance it will act alone after the Americans make a deal is miniscule."
Material from the Associated Press was used in this story.
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