JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's prime minister on Sunday urged the international community to step up the pressure on Iran, despite some optimism following the latest round of nuclear talks with the Islamic Republic.
It was Benjamin Netanyahu's first public statement on last week's round of talks between Iran and global powers over its suspect nuclear program. Negotiators ended the talks on an upbeat note, though they gave no details on what proposals were exchanged.
The talks have put Netanyahu in a tough position. Convinced that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, Netanyahu has dismissed what he calls a "charm offensive" by Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani.
Netanyahu believes the Iranians are reaching out to the West in a bid to trick the world into easing painful economic sanctions while buying time to push forward with their nuclear program. In recent weeks, he has repeatedly called on the world to keep up the pressure.
"I think that in this situation as long as we do not see actions instead of words, the international pressure must continue to be applied and even increased," Netanyahu told his Cabinet. "The greater the pressure, the greater the chance that there will be a genuine dismantling of the Iranian military nuclear program. If the pressure is reduced, the chance will be accordingly smaller."
He also warned against granting "international legitimacy" to the Iranians at this point. He cited Iran's continued enrichment of uranium, a key step toward making weapons, its defiance of past U.N. Security Council resolutions, its support for Syria, its references to Israel's destruction and its alleged involvement in attacks on Israeli targets worldwide.
"I think that the correct approach toward such a regime is to be wary and increase the pressure," Netanyahu said.
Despite such warnings, however, the world has exhibited a growing willingness to engage the Iranians. Over the weekend, U.S. officials said the White House is 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 some relief to the Iranian economy.
On Sunday, the Israeli daily Haaretz said Iran has indicated a willingness to scale back its uranium enrichment program and discuss the activities of some of its suspect nuclear facilities. The report cited an anonymous high-ranking Israeli official whom it said had been briefed by American negotiators.
Netanyahu's office declined comment on the report, which, if true, would fall short of Netanyahu's hopes.
Netanyahu has demanded that Iran halt all uranium enrichment, remove its stockpile of enriched uranium from the country, and shutter key nuclear facilities.
The West suspects Iran's nuclear program is aimed at weapons development. Iran says its activities are for peaceful purposes.