The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Israel PM 'utterly rejects' emerging Iran nuclear deal as Kerry heads to Geneva talks

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JERUSALEM - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday that he "utterly rejects" the emerging nuclear deal between western powers and Iran, calling it a "bad deal" and promising that Israel will do everything it needs to do to defend itself.

Netanyahu's tough talk came a day after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who is mediating negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, sharply criticized Israeli policies in an interview broadcast on Israeli TV. A photo op with the two did not take place as scheduled Friday.

Kerry criticized Israeli settlement building and warned violence could erupt if peace talks fail in the interview.

Israel believes Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon and says international pressure should be stepped up, not eased, in order to force Iran to dismantle its nuclear program. Netanyahu has repeatedly threatened to attack Iran, unilaterally if necessary, if he concludes that diplomatic pressure on Iran has failed.

He spoke before meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Kerry returned to Tel Aviv from Jordan to speak with Netanyahu before flying to Switzerland to participate in nuclear talks with Iran.

Kerry's decision to fly to Geneva comes after signs that global powers and Iran were close to a deal that would cap some of Iran's suspected nuclear program in exchange for limited relief from economic sanctions.

"I understand the Iranians are walking around very satisfied in Geneva as well they should because they got everything and paid nothing," Netanyahu told reporters.

"They wanted relief of sanctions after years of grueling sanctions, they got that. They paid nothing because they are not reducing in any way their nuclear enrichment capability. So Iran got the deal of the century and the international community got a bad deal," Netanyahu said.

"This is a very bad deal and Israel utterly rejects it. Israel is not obliged by this agreement and Israel will do everything it needs to do to defend itself and defend the security of its people," he said.

In a signal to Kerry, following his remarks about Israeli policy in Thursday's broadcast; Netanyahu added "That is true also of our negotiations with the Palestinians."

"I will never compromise on Israel's security and our vital interests, not in the face of any international pressure. I think the pressure has to be put where it belongs, that is on the Palestinians who refuse to budge. But I think in any case, no amount of pressure will make me or the Government of Israel compromise on the basic security and national interests of the State of Israel," Netanyahu said.

A State Department official said only that Kerry and Netanyahu met one on one for two hours and 15 minutes.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki confirmed Kerry would go Geneva to meet Friday with the European Union's top diplomat, Catherine Ashton, and Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Israel considers a nuclear-armed Iran to be an existential threat, citing hostile Iranian rhetoric toward the Jewish state, Iran's missile capabilities and its support for violent Middle Eastern militant groups.

Netanyahu says pressure must be maintained until Iran halts all enrichment of uranium, a key step in producing a nuclear weapon; removes its stockpile of enriched uranium from the country; closes suspicious enrichment facilities and shutters a facility that could produce plutonium, another potential gateway to nuclear arms.

Despite Netanyahu's warnings, there are growing signs that any international deal with Iran will fall short of his demands.

The Iranian nuclear program will likely to dominate Friday's meeting, overshadowing Kerry's efforts to revive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

A senior state department official said that Kerry has been open to the possibility of travelling to Geneva for the talks "if it would help narrow differences."

The official said Ashton asked Kerry to attend the latest round of discussions. The official called the negotiations "a complex process" and said Kerry was "committed to doing anything he can" to help.

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