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Netanyahu, alongside Kerry, implores U.S. to maintain Iran sanctions

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Ending sanctions before Iran dismantles its nuclear program would be “tragic,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said ahead of a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

“The leadership the United States and the President have shown on the issue of sanctions, I think, has been centrally important” in bringing Iran to talks, Netanyahu said in Rome on Wednesday at a joint media appearance with Kerry before they met privately to discuss Iran and Israel’s peace process with the Palestinians, as well the situation in Syria and bilateral issues. “I think it would be a tragic mistake to stop right before that goal is realized, and I look forward to discussing this issue, obviously, with you.”

Netanyahu emphasized that the predicate to ending sanctions must be ending uranium enrichment, including the dismantling of centrifuges.

“Iran must not have a nuclear weapons capability, which means that they shouldn’t have centrifuges for enrichment,” Netanyahu said.

“They shouldn’t have a plutonium heavy water plant which is used only for nuclear weapons,” he said. “They should get rid of the amassed fissile material. And they shouldn’t have underground nuclear facilities, underground for one reason — for military purposes.”

Kerry agreed that “no deal is better than a bad deal.” But, he added, “if this can be solved satisfactorily, diplomatically, it is clearly better for everyone.”

The secretary of state welcomed the apparent signs of greater openness in the new Iranian regime and said the U.S. would continue cautious diplomatic initiatives as well as maintaining sanctions.

“We will pursue a diplomatic initiative with eyes wide open, aware it will be vital for Iran to live up to those standards other nations that have nuclear programs live up to as they prove those programs are indeed peaceful,” he said.

Kerry has led the effort to renew talks with Iran under its new president, Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate who says he is ready to make more transparent a nuclear program he insists is peaceful.

Rouhani has said he will not accept a total end to uranium enrichment as part of a final status deal, and neither Kerry nor the Obama administration have made clear whether such a dismantling would be demanded.

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