Iran must agree to "verifiable action" to satisfy U.S. concerns about its nuclear program or else there will be no final deal, President Barack Obama's top national security aide said on Monday on the eve of a new round of talks between Iran and world powers in Vienna.
Addressing an Israeli Independence Day celebration in Washington, U.S. national security adviser Susan Rice sought to reassure a pro-Israel audience that Washington would take a tough line with Tehran, despite Israeli worries that the Obama administration is giving up too much in the negotiations.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during a visit to Tokyo on Monday, said Iran's nuclear program was a "clear and present danger" and Tehran cannot be allowed to get the capability to make nuclear arms.
A November interim accord easing sanctions on Iran made clear that Washington and five other world powers would let it enrich uranium on a limited scale under a final agreement. But Israel wants the Iranians to be stripped of all disputed nuclear projects, a demand that put it at odds with its chief ally, the United States.
"We all have a responsibility to give diplomacy a chance to succeed. But America won't be satisfied by mere words. We will only be satisfied by verifiable action from Iran," Rice said to light applause from an audience that included Israeli diplomats and American supporters of the Jewish state.
"Put simply, if we are not satisfied, there will be no deal," Rice, who visited Israel last week, said, promising continued consultations with Israeli officials.
Iran and the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia will meet in Vienna on Tuesday for a new round of negotiations aimed at reaching a broad diplomatic settlement of the decade-old nuclear dispute.
Iran, Israel's arch-foe in the region, denies it is seeking nuclear weapons capability. Israel is widely assumed to have the Middle East's only atomic arsenal.
Rice also reaffirmed that the Obama administration would "stay true to the cause of peace" between Israel and the Palestinians, despite the recent breakdown of a nine-month diplomatic effort pushed by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
"Even though we have reached a pause in the negotiations, we continue to encourage the parties to work and act toward a future of peace," Rice said.
But visiting Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, who spoke after Rice and echoed her praise for the longstanding U.S.-Israeli alliance, hinted at lingering tensions between Washington and Israel over the failed talks.
Some Israeli officials took umbrage last week when U.S. envoy Martin Indyk singled out Jewish settlement construction on occupied land as one of the main reasons for the diplomatic collapse, even though he also faulted the Palestinians for signing 15 international treaties and conventions.
"We are eager to have peace not because somebody is telling us that we need peace," said Steinitz, a Netanyahu confidant. But "because it's important for the state of Israel and Israelis."
He said most Israelis would support "difficult concessions" but on two conditions - "that it will be a real genuine peace and real security."
But neither Rice nor Steinitz offered any new path forward on a diplomatic track that appears to offer little hope for now.
(Reporting By Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Ken Wills)