WASHINGTON - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that Iran should remain under biting sanctions until it halts all uranium enrichment, appearing to exceed UN demands on Tehran.
His remarks appeared aimed at stepping up pressure on Iran as it engages in revived international nuclear negotiations amid increased speculation in recent months that Israel may soon take military action to halt its nuclear drive.
"They have to stop all enrichment," Netanyahu told CNN in an interview in Jerusalem, adding that he would not accept Iran enriching uranium to even three per cent, which is near the level required for peaceful atomic energy.
"After you stop all enrichment... you will get these (fuel) rods from another country that can allow you to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes," he said.
Netanyahu said Iran must also "dismantle the underground bunker," apparently referring to the Fordo site near the holy city of Qom, where UN inspectors say it has begun enriching uranium to 20-per cent purity.
When asked if he worried that his language might commit Israel to launching a military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities, Netanyahu replied: "I'm not worried what we look like. I'm worried about stopping this."
Iran has already developed the capacity to enrich uranium to 3.5 per cent, the level required for atomic energy, and to 20 per cent, which is used to create medical isotopes.
It would have to enrich to 90 per cent in order to make nuclear weapons.
Israel has long seen Iran as the greatest threat to its survival, both because of Tehran's nuclear program and because of its leaders' calls for the Jewish state to be wiped off the map.
Tehran has insisted its nuclear program is entirely peaceful and has claimed the right to enrich uranium for civilian purposes.
An Iranian envoy is scheduled to meet with representatives of the P+5 group, which includes the five permanent UN Security Council members and Germany, in Baghdad on May 23 for fresh talks aimed at resolving the nuclear impasse.
US and EU diplomats are reportedly planning to demand that Iran close and dismantle the Fordo site, stop enriching uranium to 20 per cent and ship existing stockpiles out of the country, demands already rejected by Tehran.
Iran and the P5+1 met in Istanbul on April 14 for the first time in 15 months.
The UN Security Council has imposed four rounds of sanctions on Iran over suspicions that its avowed civilian nuclear program is a cover for a secret atomic weapons drive, a charge vigorously denied by Tehran.