The developing agreement on Iran's nuclear program is even worse than Israel had feared and the "Iran-Lausanne-Yemen axis" must be stopped, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday, even as reports emerged of possible progress in the ongoing talks in Switzerland between Iran and the world powers.
"I have just come from a conversation with US Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. Over the weekend I spoke with US Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid. I heard from both of them about strong and continuing bipartisan support for Israel and of course this is very important. I expressed to them our deep concern over the agreement being formulated with Iran in the nuclear talks. This agreement, as it appears, confirms all of our concerns and even more so," Netanyahu told his cabinet in Jerusalem as the sides in Lausanne worked toward a March 31 deadline.
"Even as meetings proceed on this dangerous agreement, Iran's proxies in Yemen are overrunning large sections of that country and are attempting to seize control of the strategic Bab-el-Mandeb straits which would affect the naval balance and the global oil supply.
"After the Beirut-Damascus-Baghdad axis, Iran is carrying out a pincers movement in the south as well in order to take over and conquer the entire Middle East. The Iran-Lausanne-Yemen axis is very dangerous for humanity and needs to be stopped," he said, drawing a line between Iran's nuclear ambitions and the actions of the Iranian-allied Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Netanyahu has been a vehement opponent of the agreement currently being brokered, even stating his case in a fiery pre-election speech to Congress earlier this month that did nothing to ease tense ties between Israel and the Obama administration.
Iran has tentatively agreed to limits centrifuges used to enrich uranium to 6,000 - or even less - at its main site, in apparent progress in nuclear talks, officials told the Associated Press on Sunday, two days ahead of a target date for an initial nuclear agreement.
Iran has also agreed to ship out all enriched uranium it produces - which can be used to make the fissile core of a nuclear weapon - to Russia, the officials said.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry cancelled plans to fly to Boston for a ceremony in honor of his late friend Edward Kennedy in order to stay in Switzerland, where nuclear talks between Iran and six world powers are ongoing.
Officials close to the talks also confirmed the French and German foreign ministers, Laurent Fabius and Frank-Walter Steinmeier, had cancelled a planned joint trip to Kazakhstan.
"We're hopeful, but there is still a lot of work to be done," Fabius told reporters on Sunday.
Iran denies charges from the West and Israel that it wants to build a nuclear weapon, and says its program is purely peaceful. It wants the removal of international sanctions that are hurting its economy.
The six world powers negotiating with it are seeking a halt to its most sensitive nuclear work. The dispute dates back more than a decade and has threatened at times to trigger a new Middle East war.
Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif have been in Lausanne for days to try to reach a preliminary deal by a self-imposed deadline of Tuesday. They held several rounds of talks on Saturday and met again on Sunday morning.
Fabius and Steinmeier joined the talks on Saturday, and their counterparts from China, Britain and Russia were to take part later on Sunday.
Close as the sides have come to the outline of an agreement, they still have deep disagreements on Iran's demands for uranium enrichment research and the immediate removal of all UN and key US and European Union sanctions. Those disagreements could wreck a deal, officials say.
Zarif says the six powers are now the ones who must compromise.
"In negotiations, both sides must show flexibility," Zarif said on Twitter. "We have, and are ready to make a good deal for all. We await our counterparts' readiness."
Western officials close to the talks said it was up to Iran to compromise on the remaining sticking points.
"The serious but difficult work continues," a senior US State Department official said. "We expect the pace to intensify as we assess if an understanding is possible."
Israel meanwhile kept up its public campaign against the possible nuclear deal with Tehran.
"I say here, this morning, in the name of the government of Israel, this is a bad deal, full of holes," Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz told Israel Radio.
A key point in the framework accord the sides are trying to seal by Tuesday is expected to be the duration of the agreement, which officials from the six-power group said would have to be in place for more than 10 years. Additional problems remain on monitoring Tehran's compliance and other issues.
The framework accord should be followed by a comprehensive deal by June 30 that includes full technical details.