JERUSALEM – Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Tuesday his country has never promised the United States it would hold off from attacking Iran while nuclear talks were taking place.
The comments, in which Barak said that a diplomatic push to reach a compromise with Iran was a waste of "precious time," further exposed a rift between Israel and the U.S. over how to deal with the Islamic Republic and its nuclear program.
Israel, arguing that a nuclear Iran would pose an existential threat, has said it will not allow Tehran to acquire a nuclear weapon. It cites Iranian calls for Israel's destruction, Iran's support for Arab militant groups and its development of long-range missiles capable of striking the Jewish state.
Fearing that Iran is moving quickly toward nuclear capability, Israel has repeatedly threatened to attack if the country's uranium enrichment program continues to advance. Enrichment is a key process in developing weapons, and Israel says Iran is closely approaching a point where it can no longer be stopped.
The U.S. favors diplomacy and economic sanctions, and has said military action on Iran's nuclear facilities should only be a last resort if all else fails.
Officials from the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany met with Iran in Istanbul last weekend to discuss the country's nuclear program. The talks were described as positive, and they agreed to meet again on May 23 in Baghdad.
Barak told Israel's Army Radio he did not believe the talks would prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. "We regret the time being lost. This is precious time," he said.
Earlier this week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu previously said Iran got a "freebie" from the international community, saying the May meeting gave the Iranians an additional five weeks to continue uranium enrichment without any restrictions. He said Iran should be forced to stop this immediately.
Netanyahu was publicly rebuked by President Barack Obama who said the U.S. had not "given anything away" in the talks.
Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes and says it does not seek a bomb. But the U.S. and its allies do not take the promise seriously.
The Obama administration has urgently sought to hold off Israeli military action, which would likely result in the U.S. being pulled into a conflict as well.