Iran must commit to a verifiable freeze of at least 10 years on sensitive nuclear activity for a landmark atomic deal to be reached, U.S. President Barack Obama said.
The American President, however, added that the odds are against talks with Iran ending with an agreement.
At an Interview at the White House, Obama moved to dial back tensions over Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned speech to Congress on Tuesday, opposing the Iran deal, saying it was a distraction that would not be “permanently destructive” to U.S. Israeli ties.
The President, however, stressed there was a “substantial disagreement” between them over how to achieve their shared goal of preventing Israel’s arch foe from acquiring nuclear weapons and also criticized Netanyahu’s stance.
Negotiations on Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for an easing of sanctions have reached a critical stage ahead of an end of March deadline for a framework deal and a June 30 date for a final agreement.
Obama’s comment about the time frame for a freeze represents one of the U.S. Government’s strongest signals yet of its red line for a successful deal.
“If, in fact, Iran is willing to agree to double-digit years of keeping their program where it is right now and, in fact, rolling back elements of it that currently exist . If we’ve got that, and we’ve got a way of verifying that, there’s no other steps we can take that would give us such assurance that they don’t have a nuclear weapon,” he said.
The U.S. goal is to make sure “there’s at least a year between us seeing them try to get a nuclear weapon and them actually being able to obtain one,” Obama said in the interview, carefully timed by the White House a day ahead of Netanyahu’s.
Obama’s robust defense of a possible deal with Iran comes as his administration faces criticism from some quarters that it is being too eager to complete a deal, at the risk of allowing Iran to eventually become a nuclear state.
The White House last week denied a report that the United States and Iran were exploring a possible 10-year deal that would initially freeze Iran’s nuclear program but gradually allow it to increase activities that could enable it to produce nuclear arms in the last years of the agreement.
Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was expected to urge the U.S. Congress on Tuesday to oppose a deal.
He was invited to speak at the U.S. Capitol by Republican House Speaker, John Boehner, angering Democrats.
Mr Netanyahu, who would face domestic elections in two weeks’ time, would not meet Mr Obama during his visit to the U.S.
But Mr Netanyahu had been wrong on Iran before when he opposed an interim nuclear agreement struck last year, Mr Obama said.