WASHINGTON (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday an extension of nuclear talks with Iran should be used to further increase pressure on the country to give up its atomic weapons ambitions and capabilities. His comments came as Secretary of State John Kerry cited movement in the negotiations and urged patience while vowing that the process would not continue without "tangible progress."
Speaking to the same Mideast policy conference in Washington, Netanyahu and Kerry both pointed to cooperation between moderate Arab states and others in the fight against Islamic State extremists as a potential hopeful sign for defeating the group and improving prospects for Arab-Israeli peace. But, they also noted tremendous hurdles in achieving those goals.
Netanyahu said it was fortunate that international negotiators from the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany did not meet last month's deadline for a deal with Iran because he said an agreement reached then "would have effectively left Iran as a threshold nuclear power."
Those talks have been extended the talks until July 2015, with the goal of reaching a framework for a deal by the end of March.
Netanyahu said Israel's "voice" and "concerns" had played a critical role in preventing a bad deal from being reached in November. He added it is imperative to use the extra time to step up and reinforce demands that Iran prove its nuclear program is peaceful as it claims and not as many suspect a cover for atomic weapons development.
"Now we must use the time available to increase the pressure on Iran to dismantle its nuclear weapons capability," he said in a videotaped message to the conference at The Brookings Institution.
Netanyahu did not elaborate on how the pressure should be increased. Some Israeli officials and U.S. lawmakers have called for the U.S. to impose more sanctions on Iran but the Obama administration is resisting this, saying more sanctions would violate the terms of an interim agreement reached with Iran and crater the ongoing negotiations.
In his remarks, which followed Netanyahu's taped speech, Kerry acknowledged differences between Israel and the United States on how to approach Iran but stressed that the two countries' goals are the same.
"While we may disagree on tactics from time to time, when it comes to the core strategic goal — no nuclear weapon — there is not an inch of daylight between the United States and the State of Israel," he said.
Kerry maintained that the interim nuclear accord with Iran is holding and that fears that the Iranians would cheat have proven to be unfounded thus far. He said new ideas on how to achieve a more durable agreement have been presented and that it was his hope that the late March target for a framework would be met with little need for further negotiation.
"We have no intention of negotiating forever," Kerry said. "Absent measurable progress, who knows how much longer this could go on."
But, he also stressed the importance of sealing a deal that keeps Iran from having nuclear weapons.
"If we succeed in reaching an agreement, the entire world, including Israel, will be safer for it," he said.
In his comments, Netanyahu said that cooperation between Israel and moderate Arab states in the fight against Islamic extremism could "open the door to peace" between Israel and the Palestinians. However, he said that the Palestinian leadership must end incitement against Israel if that is to occur.
"The collapse of the old order has made clear to pragmatic Arab governments that Israel is not the enemy," he said.
Kerry expressed similar thoughts and noted that common cause against extremists was already "making steady measurable progress" against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
Kerry, who invested considerable time and energy in an unsuccessful attempt to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, said he believed that redefining strategic interests among states throughout the Middle East could lay the groundwork for a resumption in talks.
He lamented, however, that conditions are not yet ripe for new peace negotiations, particularly due to heightened tensions between Israel and the Palestinians that have led to an unprecedented amount of frustration. And Kerry once again denounced continued Israeli settlement activity as "undermining the prospects for peace."
Another wild card, he said, are Israel's upcoming elections.