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'Don't let ayatollahs win' Netanyahu tells Pentagon chief

May 16, 2014 3:05 P.M. (Updated: May 17, 2014 2:03 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel Friday that world powers must deny Iran any possibility of developing a nuclear weapon as the search for a deal intensifies.

"I think that, while the talks with Iran are going on, there is one thing that must guide the international community and that is not to let the ayatollahs win," Netanyahu's office quoted him as saying at the beginning of their meeting in Jerusalem.

"We must not allow Iran, the foremost terrorist state of our time, to develop the ability to develop a nuclear weapon," Netanyahu said.

Hagel said that Washington had the same goal.

"I want to assure you prime minister, and the people of Israel, of the United States' continued commitment to assuring Iran does not get a nuclear weapon," he said in video distributed by the US embassy.

"America will do what we must to live up to that commitment," he added.

Although Iran currently has a nuclear energy program that it claims is meant for civilian purposes, Israel is known to have a large stockpile of undeclared nuclear weapons.

The Pentagon chief's visit to Israel came as the United States and other major powers pressed talks with Iran on a long-term agreement to allay international concerns about its nuclear ambitions.

A historic deal reached in November between Iran and the United States following the election of Iranian president Rouhani in June has been hailed by many around the world as a harbinger of better relations between the two power.

Israel, however, has strongly opposed the negotiations with its arch-enemy, and has said repeatedly that it is prepared to launch military action on its against Iran's nuclear facilities if it feels it necessary.

Netanyahu says that the diplomatic opening to the West overseen by President Hassan Rouhani since he took office last August is a charade as real power remains in the hands of Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

At a meeting with Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon on Thursday, Hagel said the negotiations between the powers and Iran were not open-ended -- the parties are working to a July 20 target for an agreement.

He said Washington was continuing to cooperate closely with its Israeli ally on the Iran issue, even while the negotiations go on.

Hagel is on the last leg of a Middle East tour that also took him to Saudi Arabia, which has its own concerns about the nuclear talks with its regional rival.

Ma'an staff contributed to this report.
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