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Netanyahu to talk curbs on Iran with Obama in Washington in March

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem February 9, 2014. REUTERS/Sebastian Scheiner/Pool
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem February 9, 2014. REUTERS/Sebastian Scheiner/Pool

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has condemned a big power deal with Iran on its nuclear activity, said he would meet U.S. President Obama in Washington next month to further the goal of denying Tehran an atomic bomb capability.

Netanyahu, whose relationship with Obama has frayed over the Iranian issue, has described as a "historic mistake" the interim agreement that world powers reached with Iran in November on curbing some aspects of its nuclear program in return for a limited easing of sanctions imposed on Tehran.

Netanyahu said the main aim of his Washington visit, which will include a policy speech to the powerful pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC, would be to further the goal of preventing Iran from being able to "break out" a nuclear bomb.

"Iran continues to object to any dismantling of its (uranium) enrichment capability - not even a single centrifuge," Netanyahu said in public remarks to legislators from his right-wing Likud party.

Iran denies Western allegations it has been seeking the means to make atomic weapons, saying such claims are baseless and fabricated by foes such as Israel, which is widely believed to be the Middle East's only nuclear-armed power.

A diplomatic push to resolve the dispute peacefully gained momentum after last June's election of a relative moderate, Hassan Rouhani, as Iran's president on a platform to ease its international isolation.

The Obama administration argues that the November 24 interim pact between six powers and Iran is the best way to try to negotiate a comprehensive settlement that would address all questions about Iran's atomic program including its scope.

The U.N. nuclear watchdog said on Sunday Iran had agreed to start addressing suspicions that it may have worked on designing an atomic weapon, a potential breakthrough in a long-stalled investigation into Tehran's atomic activities.

That development could give a lift to the high-stakes negotiations between Iran and six world powers, due to start on February 18 in Vienna and aimed at reaching a broader diplomatic settlement with the Islamic Republic.

Netanyahu cited the faltering U.S.-sponsored peace process with the Palestinians as the "second issue" on his Washington agenda.

In his remarks to Likud lawmakers, he repeated his main demands: Palestinian recognition of Israel as the "nation state" of the Jewish people, a declared end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and tight security arrangements in any final peace deal.

Secretary of State John Kerry is trying to devise a framework agreement that would allow the six-month-old land-for-peace peace talks, which have shown few signs of progress, to continue beyond an April target date for an accord.

Netanyahu said he would hold talks with Obama in Washington and address AIPAC's March 2-4 annual policy conference in the U.S. capital before heading on to Los Angeles for the premiere of a film promoting tourism to Israel, and to California's Silicon Valley to meet high-tech executives.

He gave no specific dates, but Israeli officials said they expected Netanyahu and Obama to meet on March 3 and for the Israeli leader to address AIPAC the next day.

The two men last met in September, at the White House.

(The story fixes typo to read "able" in paragraph 3)

(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller, Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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