WASHINGTON – Hosting Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the White House on Monday, President Barack Obama said the US remains “clear-eyed” going into direct talks with Iran over its nuclear program, and said it is “absolutely clear” that words will not be enough to stop Western sanctions – or his consideration of military action – should Iran choose to continue enriching uranium.

“We have to test diplomacy,” Obama said. “We have to see if in fact they are serious about their willingness to abide by international norms and international law and international requirements and resolutions.”

Obama said he would insist on the “highest level of verification” on any deal that may be reached with the Iranians.

But sitting beside the president in the Oval Office, Netanyahu urged Obama to tighten sanctions on the Islamic Republic, and said Israel reserves the right to wage a unilateral military campaign against Iran’s nuclear facilities should the words of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani not quickly be followed by constructive action.

“It is Israel’s firm belief that if Iran continues to advance its nuclear program during negotiations, the sanctions should be strengthened,” Netanyahu said.

“Iran must fully dismantle its military nuclear program,” he added.

Netanyahu believes four steps are required of an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program for Israel to accept such a deal. Iran must completely halt uranium enrichment throughout the country’s multiple facilities; remove all uranium already enriched; close the well-fortified mountain facility in Qom; and shut down its plutonium plant in Arak.

Netanyahu encouraged Obama to demonstrate a “credible threat of military force” similar to what was seen from the US military throughout a showdown with Syria’s President Bashar Assad over his chemical weapons program last month, after 1,400 civilians were gassed by Assad’s military on August 21.

On Iran, “no deal is better than a bad deal, and that’s what our bar will be,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said after the White House meeting.

“Look at last week, at how challenging a handshake was; just politically,” Psaki said. “We are going into any discussion with eyes wide open.”

At the United Nations General Assembly in New York last week, the US offered Iran a meeting between the two leaders. That offer was declined by the Iranians, but Rouhani ultimately requested a phone call with Obama, which occurred on Friday.

It was the first direct contact between leaders of the two nations since the Iranian Revolution of 1979.

Later in the afternoon on Monday, Netanyahu met with Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Bob Menendez over coffee, as the upper chamber prepares to consider language of a new sanctions bill that would no longer exempt firms in allied nations from buying Iranian oil.

He also met with Secretary of State John Kerry, just as Vice President Joseph Biden addressed the J Street Conference in Washington on the Obama administration’s push for a two-state solution.

Speaking to a pool of reporters at the White House after their meeting, Obama commended Netanyahu “for entering into good-faith negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.”

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Monday that Moscow would push for a summit that would establish a zone in the Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction, after Syria agreed to disown its chemical-weapons arsenal and days after Rouhani told the UN General Assembly that Iran would support such a zone.

“Almost four decades of international efforts to establish nuclear weapons-free zones have regrettably failed,” he said. “Urgent, practical steps toward the establishment of such a zone are necessary. The international community has to redouble efforts in support of the establishment of this zone.”

Rouhani said Iran believes Israel has stockpiled roughly 200 nuclear bombs, and has called on the Jewish state to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty “without delay.”

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