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Kerry, Netanyahu discuss Iranian nuclear program in Rome

By Jamie Crawford, CNN National Security Producer
updated 10:20 AM EDT, Wed October 23, 2013
US Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Rome, on October 23.
US Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Rome, on October 23.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Kerry: "We will pursue a diplomatic initiative with eyes wide open"
  • "Iran must not have nuclear weapon capability," Netanyahu emphasizes to Kerry
  • Both say that not reaching a deal with Iran would be better than agreeing to a bad deal
  • They are discussing Iran, Syria, and the peace process with the Palestinians

(CNN) -- Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States will not let up its pressure on Iran over its disputed nuclear program despite recent diplomatic overtures between the two countries.

"We will pursue a diplomatic initiative with eyes wide open," Kerry said in Rome during a meeting Wednesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, "aware it will be vital for Iran to live up to those standards other nations that have nuclear programs live up to as they prove those programs are indeed peaceful."

Despite a softening of rhetoric on some fronts by the regime in Tehran, there have been fears by other countries in the region that the United States might be too quick to offer incentives to Iran in the latest round of negotiations between Iran and the group known as the P5+1, which includes the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany.

Netanyahu, who has said Iran's nuclear program poses an existential threat to Israel, was cautious in his assessment of the current state of play.

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"Iran must not have nuclear weapon capability," he told Kerry. "I think no deal is better than a bad deal."

For Netanyahu, any deal with Iran must include a prohibition on centrifuges that can be used to enrich uranium to a weapons grade level, as well as the dismantling of a plutonium heavy water plant in Arak that has yet to come on line.

"They should get rid of the amassed fissile material, and they shouldn't have underground nuclear facilities," Netanyahu said in reference to the Fordow facility near the city of Qom, which was discovered in 2009.

Netanyahu is not alone in his plea for the Obama administration to take a slow and cautious approach in the latest round of negotiations.

Members from both parties in Congress have urged the administration not to loosen any of the sanctions that are choking Iran's economy prematurely. Legislation is being drafted that could tighten the sanctions regime until a deal is reached.

"No deal is better than a bad deal," Kerry said echoing Netanyahu as the two began approximately seven hours of talks about Iran, Syria, and the peace process with the Palestinians. "But if this can be solved satisfactorily, diplomatically, it is clearly better for everyone."

The next round of talks with Iran and the P5+1 is scheduled to take place next month in Geneva.

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