U.S. and Israeli officials differed over Iran's nuclear program on Wednesday as Israel called for its effective dismantlement and the United States suggested safeguards could show that it is peaceful rather than military.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke as they began talks ostensibly about Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations but which appeared likely to be overshadowed by Iran.
"Iran must not have a nuclear weapons capability, which means that they shouldn't have centrifuges (for) enrichment, they shouldn't have a plutonium heavy-water plant, which is used only for nuclear weapons," Netanyahu told reporters.
"They should get rid of (their amassed) fissile material, and they shouldn't have underground nuclear facilities, (which are) underground for one reason - for military purposes." He called Iran's program the region's foremost security problem.
Iran says it is enriching uranium solely for electricity and medical treatments, not nuclear weapons.
Kerry, whose aides are exploring a diplomatic solution to rein in Iranian nuclear activity, took a tack different from Netanyahu by suggesting Iran could show its program was peaceful by adhering to international standards followed by other nations.
"We will pursue a diplomatic initiative but with eyes wide open, aware that it will be vital for Iran to live up to the standards that other nations that have nuclear programs live up to as they prove that those programs are indeed peaceful," Kerry said as he and Netanyahu began a meeting at the U.S. ambassador's residence in Rome.
"CRYSTAL CLEAR" STANDARD
"We will need to know that actions are being taken which make it crystal clear, undeniably clear, fail-safe to the world that whatever program is pursued is indeed a peaceful program," he told reporters.
Six global powers held talks with Iran last week in Geneva to test whether a diplomatic resolution might be reached, their first such negotiations since moderate Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's election in June opened up possibilities for a deal after years of increasing confrontation.
A second round of these talks, which include Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States, is scheduled for early November, also in Geneva.
Iran cites a right to refine uranium for peaceful purposes under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), a 1970 global pact to prevent the spread of nuclear arms.
But the United States has said Iran does not automatically have this right under international law because, it argues, Tehran is in violation of its obligations under counter-proliferation safeguards.
A series of U.N. Security Council resolutions since 2006 has demanded that Iran suspend all enrichment and heavy water related activities.
But Western experts say, and some diplomats privately acknowledge, that it is no longer realistic to expect Iran to halt all its enrichment, as the Islamic state has sharply expanded this work in the last seven years and it is seen as a source of national pride and prestige.
Instead, they say, any deal should set strict, verifiable limits on the number of centrifuges that Iran can have and on the production of low-enriched uranium.
Writing by Philip Pullella, editing by Mark Heinrich