In an apparent change of tone regarding Western diplomatic efforts to curb Iran's nuclear drive, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu declared on Friday that the latest US-led initiative for Iran to ship most of its uranium abroad is a "positive first step."
In a meeting in Jerusalem with US Middle East envoy George Mitchell, Netanyahu expressed appreciation for President Barack Obama's "ongoing efforts to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear military capability," according to a statement from the Prime Minister's Office.
"I support and appreciate the president's ongoing effort to unite the international community to address the challenge of Iran's attempts to become a nuclear military power," Netanyahu said.
The prime minister called the plan, drafted by the US, Russia and France in Vienna last week, to transfer a significant portion of Iran's low-enriched uranium out of the country "a positive first step" toward a solution to the Iranian nuclear crisis.
Netanyahu and other Israeli officials, including Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Regional Cooperation Minister Silvan Shalom, had previously warned that the plan would only serve to buy the Iranians more time, and that it would "blow up in the face of the world."
Defense Minister Ehud Barak also said over the weekend that he opposed the proposal because it essentially recognized Iran's right to develop a nuclear program.
The plan calls for Iran to export most of its enriched uranium to Russia and France, offering to enrich it to a higher level outside the country, under UN supervision.
Teheran had at first signalled that it would accept the proposal, but European diplomats and US officials were quoted by The New York Times on Friday as saying that the Islamic Republic had informed the UN nuclear watchdog that it had rejected the plan.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton indicated on Friday that the US would press ahead with its program of diplomatic engagement with Iran.
Despite apparent Iranian backtracking, Clinton told CNN: "I am going to let this process play out. We are going the extra mile, as we said we would."
But she said there was international agreement, including from Russia and China, on the need to move forward with the original proposal, though she said the US was currently "seeking clarification" on the Iranian perspective on the transfer arrangement.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said on Friday that that US was awaiting further information, but he stressed, "The president's time is not unlimited."
He reiterated previous statements that the international agreement and subsequent proceedings are "not about talking for the sake of talking."
"This was about reaching an agreement that just a few weeks ago seemed to be something that the Iranians wanted," he said.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Saturday he hoped the fact that Israel was unhappy with ongoing nuclear negotiations between Iran and the international community would not "make the corrupt superpowers turn to the wrong path."
Ahmadinejad told an Iranian television channel that although Iran was working with the West to resolve the nuclear standoff, it did not trust Western government due to their their conduct in the past.
"Today the West understands that it cannot run the world without talking to us first," he said.