Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged Russia on Wednesday to insist world powers set tough terms for Iran in any deal reached in the standoff over Tehran's nuclear program.
After failing to convince Washington that global powers are pursuing a bad deal, Netanyahu flew to Moscow to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin as envoys from Russia, the United States, China, France, Britain and Germany met Iranian negotiators in Geneva.
After meeting with Putin, Netanyahu suggested Israel would be satisfied only if Iran ended all its nuclear work and cited a deal reached on the destruction of all Syria's chemical arms as a model to follow.
Accompanied to Moscow by Deputy Foreign Minister Ze'ev Elkin, who was born and raised in the Soviet Union, Netanyahu stressed the bonds connecting Israel and Russia. "Our nations share a basic sympathy towards each other," the PM said at a joint press conference after meeting with Putin. "There are one million Russian speakers in Israel. The speaker of our Knesset speaks Russian and so does our foreign minister and his deputy, among many others. But it is not only them – It is us, all of [Israel]."
"Not on every issue are Israel and Russia in agreement," said the PM, but on core issues the nations ''share a deep understanding."
"This was evident in our conversation today about issues which relate to Israel's security, and to a certain extent to Russia's as well, issues that affect the entire Middle East and the entire world," said Netanyahu.
"For Israel, the greatest threat to us and to the security of the world is Iran's attempt to arm itself with nuclear weapons. Both our countries have a joint objective: We do not want to see Iran with nuclear weapons," he said.
"There is a lot to be learned from the solution achieved in Syria over the chemical weapons, where Russia and others rightly insisted on full dismantling of Syria's chemical weapons."
Citing the Syria agreement, which helped avert the threat of U.S. military strikes over a gas attack which Washington blames on Syrian government forces, Netanyahu added: "We think that it is possible to reach a better deal (over Iran) and it will require perseverance and insistence, of course."
The PM and Putin, however, gave few details of their meeting in the Kremlin. Putin said they had discussed Iran in detail and added only that he was hopeful of a positive result from the talks in Geneva. There was no sign that Russia had shifted its position on Iran in any way.
'Our job is to try to sway the Russians'
Netanyahu says the deal now under negotiation, the exact details of which have not been disclosed, would still enable Tehran to build an atomic bomb quickly if it chose to do so.
Locked in his most serious dispute yet with U.S. President Barack Obama, Netanyahu has made veiled threats of military action against Iran if negotiators sign what he has called an "exceedingly bad deal" in Geneva.
He has dismissed widespread skepticism over Israel's ability to cause lasting damage to Iran's distant, dispersed and well-defended facilities.
IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz told reporters his task was "to ensure we retain and continue to strengthen relevant capabilities" to tackle Iran if necessary.
Russia, which built Iran's first nuclear power plant and remains on better terms with Tehran than Western powers, has expressed less suspicion than them about Iran's nuclear work.
"Our job is to try to sway the Russians, as we have been doing with all the players," said Elkin. "Russia is not going to adopt Israeli positions wholesale. But any movement, even small, in the Russian position can affect the negotiations," the deputy foreign minister told Israel Radio.
Moscow is hopeful the Geneva talks will produce a preliminary deal this week to ease the nuclear standoff.
Without mentioning Netanyahu by name, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov referred to his warnings of a "historic mistake" that would win time for Iran to make a nuclear bomb, which he said were "removed from reality".
Lavrov has also suggested Iran was prepared to produce less enriched uranium and halt production of uranium enriched to a fissile concentration of 20 percent, a relatively short step from weapons-grade material. Those are two of the concessions Western powers want Iran to take, but they fall far short of Netanyahu's demands for shutting certain Iranian nuclear sites.
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