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At White House and UN, Israel's Netanyahu seeks to undo Iranian charm (+video)

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Exhibiting none of the tenseness that marked some of the two leaders’ past meetings, Netanyahu spoke of his deep appreciation for what he called Obama’s commitment to “preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.” Stating flatly that “Iran is committed to Israel’s destruction,” the Israeli leader went on to praise Obama for insisting that Iran’s conciliatory words will have to be matched by actions.

“It is Israel’s firm belief that if Iran continues to advance its nuclear program during [the coming round of] negotiations, the [existing economic] sanctions should be strengthened," Netanyahu said at the White House, seated next to Obama.

For his part, Obama – who is facing pressure from some in Congress to further tighten the economic screws on Iran even as the US joins in negotiations – reassured the Israeli leader that he would demand “the highest level of verification” of compliance with any plan curtailing Iran’s nuclear program before agreeing to any reduction of existing sanctions.

Rouhani spoke last week of his desire to reach an accord on the nuclear standoff within a matter of months, while Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, also at the UN, suggested Iran and world powers might agree on a step-by-step plan for matching confidence-building steps from Iran with a gradual easing of sanctions.    

Iran’s nuclear program and continuing uranium enrichment – a process that if not curtailed could before long leave Iran at the “breakout point” for fueling a nuclear bomb, nonproliferation experts say – are Netanyahu’s chief short-term concerns. Growing speculation that the US and other Western powers could accept a low level of Iranian enrichment as part of a deal designed to keep Iran from ever developing a bomb have alarmed the Israeli leader, Israel experts say.

But a broader geopolitical trend in the Middle East is just as worrisome to Israel, some regional analysts say.

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