Netanyahu: interim deal set Iran's nuclear drive back by 6 weeks

By Dan Williams

TEL AVIV (Reuters) - An international deal capping Iran's nuclear work set the program back by just six weeks, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday, accusing Tehran of using the hiatus to hone technologies with bomb-making potential.

Iran this month began implementing the interim nuclear accord it clinched with world powers in Geneva in November, and which Netanyahu has condemned as a "historic mistake" for easing sanctions on Israel's arch-foe while letting it retain the infrastructure to make fissile materials.

"All told, we assess that the agreement put Iran six weeks further away, no more than that, from the place where it was beforehand," Netanyahu told a security conference in Tel Aviv.

"So the test remains for a permanent deal, if achieved, to prevent Iran from achieving a nuclear capability altogether," he said, alluding to further planned international talks with Iran aimed at a fuller agreement on the disputed nuclear program.

Iran denies its nuclear work has any military dimensions, saying it is only to produce electricity and medical isotopes.

Netanyahu's estimates of the limited impact of the Geneva deal, which took effect on January 20, differ from those of some Western experts who suggest Iran would need more time than that to produce enough highly enriched uranium for a bomb, if it were to decide to build one.

President Barack Obama saw the limitations as more far-reaching, saying just after the Geneva deal was struck that its terms had "cut off Iran's most likely paths to a bomb".

Washington has sought to reassure Israel it would confer closely about crafting a permanent deal with Iran after the six-month confidence-building period laid out by the Geneva deal.

Israel has threatened to use force if necessary to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons, which the Jewish state sees as a mortal threat. Israel is widely assumed to be the Middle East's only nuclear-armed power.

(Additional reporting by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Alistair Lyon)

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