Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo by Emil Salman
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has harshly criticized the talks on Saturday between Iran and six world powers, saying "my initial impression is that Iran has been given a freebie" to carry on with its nuclear program.

Netanyahu said the decision to continue the talks on May 23 gives Tehran five more weeks to enrich uranium as it likes.

"I think Iran should take immediate steps to stop all enrichment, take out all enrichment material and dismantle the nuclear facility in Qom," Netanyahu said in a statement. "I believe that the world's greatest practitioner of terrorism must not have the opportunity to develop atomic bombs."

Netanyahu's statement came after he was briefed by the White House about Saturday's talks in Istanbul. His national security adviser, Yaakov Amidror, recently held talks with White House officials and senior French, German and British officials.

Netanyahu's tough stance further suggests he does not believe the talks will succeed. Netanyahu says Iran is using the negotiations to gain time, and that the Western powers are in no rush to resume the talks, assuming that as long as the negotiations are underway, Israel will not strike the Islamic Republic.

Netanyahu's tough statement also appears to underline the growing rift between him and Defense Minister Ehud Barak on the Iran issue. Barak, who will visit Washington for talks with his counterpart Leon Panetta and other senior officials, has said he believes the negotiations should be given a chance to succeed.

Also, Barak doesn't categorically oppose 20 percent enrichment of uranium by Iran under complete supervision. He is willing to accept 3.5 percent enrichment, under the terms set by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Netanyahu opposes any enrichment of uranium by Iran.

In related news, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Tehran had to prove that its nuclear program was peaceful. Ban was speaking during a meeting with Belgian Prime Minister Elio di Rupo in Brussels.

Netanyahu criticized the Iran talks before meeting with U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman. Lieberman and two colleagues in the Senate, Lindsey Graham and 2008 presidential hopeful John McCain, are considered authorities on security matters and support a tough stance on Iran.

Lieberman recently promoted a bill urging a military strike not when Iran builds a nuclear bomb, but when it acquires the capability to build one. The bill is to be debated in Washington in the next few days, and sources in the administration see it as a way to put pressure on President Barack Obama and possibly obstruct the talks.

Netanyahu, for his part, has added that he is not interfering in U.S. politics.