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Kerry says he understands Israel's 'deep concerns' over Iran

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks at a reception at the Japanese Ambassador's Residence in Washington November 12, 2013. REUTERS/Yur
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks at a reception at the Japanese Ambassador's Residence in Washington November 12, 2013. REUTERS/Yur

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday he understands Israel's "deep concerns" over Iran's nuclear program and that the two allies share the same goal in curbing the perceived threat, although they differ in tactics.

Kerry told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program that he had just spoken with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by phone before appearing on the television network and that the two had spoken several times this week about negotiations with Iran.

"We're having a very friendly and civil conversation about this," Kerry said. "I respect completely his deep concerns - as a prime minister of Israel should have - about the existential nature of this threat to Israel. We understand that."

His comments came after Netanyahu on Wednesday warned the U.S. and other Western nations that a "bad deal" with Iran on its nuclear program could lead to war. Netanyahu's aides also challenged the U.S. assertion that offers to provide Tehran relief from sanctions were "modest.

The United States and five other major powers are set to resume negotiations with Iran on November 20, and one potential proposal could allow Iran to sell oil and gold and import some food and medicine in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program. Israel says the relief is too generous and would do little to stop Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Kerry told MSNBC such relief is necessary and that the United States simply disagrees with Israel's approach to tighten sanctions, adding that he is "still hopeful" about next week's talks.

"What we disagree on is not the goal," he said. "We disagree on a tactic. We believe that you need to take this first step."

"Netanyahu believes that you can increase the sanctions, put the pressure on even further, and that somehow that's going to force them (Iran) to do what they haven't been willing to do at any time previously," Kerry said.

Despite the disagreement, he reiterated that the United States stands firmly with Israel.

"There's no distance between us about the danger of this program and the endgame for us is exactly the same: Iran cannot have a peaceful nuclear program that is in fact a deceptive program," Kerry said.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Eric Beech)

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