As Biden pushes for talks, Israel's Netanyahu says that Iran is stalling

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WASHINGTON — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that Iran is using negotiations over its nuclear program to stall for time to develop an atomic weapon, even as Vice President Joe Biden said the United States favors diplomacy to stop Iran from getting one.

"Diplomacy has not worked," Netanyahu, speaking via satellite, told the largest gathering in Washington of a pro-Israel U.S. lobbying group. Iran is "running out the clock," he said. "It has used negotiations, including the most recent ones, in order to buy time to press ahead with its nuclear program."

Biden, who addressed the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's annual conference in person, said the Obama administration's "strong preference" is for a diplomatic deal, which it believes is possible, to resolve international concerns that Iran is using its atomic energy program as a cover for a secret pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Biden said that if it became necessary to use force to stop Iran from acquiring an atomic weapon, the U.S. and Israel would have proved to the world that "we did everything in our power" to avoid a military conflict.

Obama 'not bluffing'

If Iran seeks a weapon despite diplomacy and sanctions, President Barack Obama "is not bluffing" when he says that "all options, including military force, are on the table," Biden said in a speech punctuated by rounds of applause. He said the U.S. pledge is to "prevent" Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, "not contain" a nuclear-armed Iran.

Stopping Iran from pursuing such weapons will top the agenda when Obama visits Israel this month, Netanyahu said in his remarks.

Netanyahu said Iran hasn't yet crossed the "red line" that he laid out in a speech at the United Nations last September, meaning the Islamic Republic hasn't stockpiled enough medium-enriched uranium to be further enriched into bomb-grade fuel for a nuclear weapon. At the same time, the Israeli leader said, "Iran is getting closer to that red line."

World powers led by the U.S. are seeking a deal to curb the country's nuclear program, which they say may have a secret military dimension, in return for the removal of economic sanctions imposed to punish Iran for illicit atomic work.

"The prime minister made clear that the gaps between his position on Iran and President Obama's remain considerable," Shimon Stein, a research fellow at Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies, said in a telephone interview.

"We may face some more friction down the road between the U.S. and Israel on this issue," said Stein, a former Israeli ambassador to Germany.

Iran hailed what it called a positive "turning point" last week after two days of negotiations with six world powers over the Islamic Republic's disputed nuclear program, as Western officials sounded a cautious note and urged concrete steps toward a deal at follow-up talks in March and April.