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Israel's Netanyahu says Iran's nuclear program is the problem, not settlements

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013. Netanyahu chaired the last meeting of his government, two days before general elections expected to grant him another term. (AP Photo/Gali Tibbon, Pool)The Associated Press

Two days before Israeli elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is shrugging off international criticism of Israeli settlement construction, calling Iran's suspect nuclear program the real threat to regional security.

Speaking to his Cabinet on Sunday, Netanyahu said he told a group of visiting U.S. senators that "the problem is not building ... The problem in the Middle East is Iran's attempt to build nuclear weapons ... This was, and remains, the main mission facing not only myself and Israel, but the entire world."

Israel, the U.S. and much of the international community think Iran aims to produce nuclear weapons, a charge Tehran denies.

Netanyahu has drawn fierce criticism internationally for building housing for Jewish settlers on lands claimed by the Palestinians.

Polls show Netanyahu positioned to lead Israel's next government.