JERUSALEM - Israel's vice prime minister said on Sunday he would welcome direct talks between the United States and Iran if they were aimed at halting what Israel sees as plans by the Islamic Republic to build a nuclear weapon.

But Moshe Yaalon also said that he believed a denial by the White House of a New York Times report that Washington and Tehran had agreed in principle to hold bilateral negotiations.

Israel has said it could use military force to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power, and it has had differences with Washington over when Tehran would actually cross the "red line" to atomic weapons capability.

"(Israel) doesn't oppose this," Yaalon said of the prospect of talks. "If Iran stops its military nuclear project as a result of direct contacts with the United States, we will be the first to welcome this."

But he said that as far as Israel was aware, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, opposed direct talks with Washington. "I believe the White House denial," Yaalon said.

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