Jerusalem — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday it was good that world powers had failed to clinch a nuclear deal with Iran and that he had lobbied against easing sanctions by telling leaders “What’s the rush?”
But he said he recognised there was still “a strong desire” to reach an accord with Iran and pledged an all-out Israeli effort to prevent “a bad agreement” - a position that could cause more friction with Israel’s main ally, the United States.
The Israeli leader said he had spoken by telephone over the weekend with U.S. President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Francois Hollande, Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“I asked all the leaders, ‘What’s the rush?’,” Netanyahu told his cabinet on Sunday. “I requested they wait,” he added. “It is good that that was ultimately the decision.”
Marathon talks in Geneva ended on Saturday without an interim deal on curbing Tehran’s contested atomic programme, with France hinting the proposal under discussion fell short of neutralising the threat of an Iranian nuclear bomb.
The sides are to meet again on Nov. 20.
A member of Netanyahu’s security cabinet, Naftali Bennett, plans to travel to the United States in the coming week. Bennett said he would meet dozens of members of Congress, where support for Israel is traditionally strong, to voice its deep concerns.
Netanyahu, again putting himself into direct conflict with Washington, had said on Friday that a “very bad deal” was shaping up.
He also repeated veiled threats that Israel, widely believed to be the Middle East’s only nuclear power, could take unilateral military action against Iran, which says its atomic programme has only peaceful purposes.
In his public remarks at Sunday’s cabinet session, Netanyahu did not say who initiated the telephone calls. U.S. officials said on Friday that it was Obama who telephoned Netanyahu, in an apparent bid to calm his anger over a prospective interim agreement that has also drawn opposition from U.S. Middle East allies, including Saudi Arabia, and in Congress.
Obama and Netanyahu have a history of strained relations, and the Israeli leader spoke in bitter tones on Friday after a tense meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who was visiting Israel and flew to Geneva to join the talks.
Netanyahu said Iran would be getting “the deal of the century” if it were granted limited, temporary sanctions relief in exchange for a partial suspension of its nuclear programme and a pledge not to expand it.
“A good agreement means an accord that reduces or totally dismantles Iran’s ability to arm itself with nuclear weapons or to prepare and produce material for a nuclear weapon,” he said on Sunday.
“A bad agreement leaves this capability in place, and takes the air out of the sanctions. I hope they will reach a good agreement, and we will do everything in our power to convince the powers and the leaders to avoid a bad agreement.”