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Talks to rein in Iran's nuclear program were to resume Tuesday in Geneva as Israel prevailed upon negotiators to harden the deal to avert war.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin was headed to Moscow on Wednesday to persuade the Kremlin that any deal should force Iran to abide by U.N. Security Council demands that it end its enrichment of uranium, a process that can create fuel for an atomic bomb.
Netanyahu also talked to Germany about maintaining economic sanctions imposed on Iran to force it to open up its nuclear program to inspections and to stop ongoing construction of a plutonium reactor in Arak that could be used for bomb-making.
"And if they refuse to do so, increase the sanctions," he told German newspaper Bild on Tuesday. "Because the options are not a bad deal or war. There is a third option: Keep the pressure up; in fact, increase the pressure."
The stakes are high in Geneva. Israel has said a nuclear Iran is a threat to its existence and it will launch a military strike if necessary to stop it. Iran has held firm, insisting its program is peaceful and that it has the right to pursue it.
Secretary of State John Kerry says, however, that the deal being discussed will calm the Middle East and improve the odds of a better deal in the future.
President Barack Obama on Tuesday asked U.S. senators to hold off on their intention to propose tougher sanctions, according to Republican Sen. Bob Corker, who attended the White House meeting. Israel says the USA is proposing to ease sanctions without getting proper assurances that Iran will end its nuclear program.
Corker said said there will not be any sanctions amendments added before Thanksgiving but that legislators from both parties want to propose them anyway. The top Democratic and Republican representatives on the House Foreign Affairs Committee said Tuesday in a letter to Obama that the deal pursued by Secretary of State John Kerry is defective.
"The United States cannot allow Iran to continue to advance toward a nuclear weapons capability while at the same time providing relief from the sanctions pressure we worked so hard to build," said committee chairman Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., and Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, the top Democrat on the committee.
Netanyahu told Bild that Iran already has five bombs' worth of lower enriched uranium and could convert it in a matter of weeks to weapons grade uranium. He said this week that a bad deal that lets Iran off the hook will lead to the military option that the world is trying to avoid.
"Nothing that we are doing here, in my judgment, will put Israel at any additional risk," Kerry said in response to Israel's concerns. "In fact, let me make this clear: We believe it reduces risk."
The United States is negotiating with France, England, Germany, China and Russia over Iran's nuclear program. Though details of the deal have not been made public, Netanyahu has suggested that Kerry is prepared to accept a deal that allows Iran to keep intact its machinery and facilities for making nuclear weapon fuel.
The Obama administration calls the deal a "first step" in broader negotiations to curtail Iran's nuclear program. But Israel is not the only party that is urging caution. France scuttled the negotiations earl this month when it said they were headed toward a deal that would not guarantee the safety of the region.
French President Francois Hollande says his government will maintain sanctions and pressure against Iran until he is certain that it has renounced a suspected nuclear weapons program.
"This agreement freezes the (Iranian nuclear) threat where it is now," said Gary Samore, Obama's former coordinator on nuclear proliferation who's now at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.
"The objective is to reach a final agreement in six months' time that will include dismantling all of Iran's enrichment capacity and the heavy water research reactor. … Whether Iran will accept such a thing is, in my view, very much in doubt."
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Tuesday that sanctions should not be removed in return for half-measures by Iran. He told Fox News said he will introduce a resolution in the Senate that defines what Iran must do before the United States should soften sanctions.
Netanyahu told The Guardian newspaper that world powers should be seeking a more comprehensive deal now, while Iran is under the full brunt of sanctions, not an interim deal to be improved later.
"And if Iran won't dismantle their centrifuges and their plutonium reactor now with all the pressure, when you reduce the (sanctions) pressure, you think you will get a better deal tomorrow? This is a mistake, a terrible mistake, a historic error," he said.