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Defense Minister Ehud Barak told senior military leaders on Monday that Iran's development of nuclear weapons was likely to "threaten the existence of the State of Israel."

Barak told the top Israel Defense Forces commanders that should Iran achieve nuclear capability, it would enormously strengthen the immunity of groups aided by Tehran and dramatically boost the efforts of enemy regional elements to develop the same capabilities.

"It will be very difficult to stop the trickling if nuclear capabilities, even if primitive, to terrorist organizations," he said. "We have already received our first sign of such from Pakistan.

Barak added that once the Obama administration began to negotiate with Iran, any efforts to use military offense against the nuclear program would become more difficult.

"We'll see Iranian gestures and steps aimed at pushing off the issue," he said. The defense minister said it was of utmost importance that U.S.-Iran dialogue be relatively short, and followed by deep sanctions.

Meanwhile, visiting U.S. Senator Benjamin Cardin said Monday that he saw little difference between the policies of President Barack Obama and his predecessor over Iran - both want to keep Iran from getting nuclear weapons.

Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland, said Obama agrees with George W. Bush: "Iran's got to stop financing terrorist activity. Iran's got to give up its desire to become a nuclear weapons power. Its as clear as that."

Obama has indicated a willingness to negotiate with Iran, while Bush resisted talks.

Cardin also said Obama could use his international good will to try to make progress in the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Cardin is leading a fact-finding mission to Israel and Syria. He said he was not asked to carry a message from Israel to Syria.