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Israeli prime minister Netanyahu says sanctions on Iran 'better work soon'

By the CNN Wire Staff
April 25, 2012 -- Updated 1003 GMT (1803 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sanctions have not rolled back Iran's nuclear program, Israeli premier says
  • Netanyahu says he supports the idea of a contiguous Palestinian state
  • He says he respects both Romney and Obama

(CNN) -- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has suggested that time is running out for Western sanctions on Iran to have a meaningful effect on Tehran's nuclear program.

The sanctions "are certainly taking a bite out of the Iranian economy," Netanyahu said in an interview broadcast Tuesday on CNN's "OutFront." But "they haven't rolled back the Iranian program -- or even stopped it -- by one iota," he added.

"I hope that changes, but so far, I can tell you, the centrifuges are spinning," he said. "They were spinning before the talks began recently with Iran, they were spinning during the talks, they're spinning as we speak."

Key world powers met with Iran earlier this month about Tehran's intentions for its nuclear program and announced that the next meeting would take place in late May.

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The United States and European nations have imposed tough economic sanctions on Iran in an effort to pressure it into accepting international demands to restrict its nuclear program.

"If the sanctions are going to work, they better work soon," Netanyahu said.

Iran insists that its nuclear program is for energy and medical purposes. U.N. and Western leaders suspect it of having military aims, including a possible nuclear weapon.

Last month, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, noted what it called a sharp and troubling increase in Iran's uranium enrichment capabilities.

The talks with Tehran this month involved the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council -- the United States, France, Russia, China, and Britain -- as well as Germany.

That group has spearheaded diplomatic efforts to persuade Iran to rein in its nuclear program, but Israel has criticized the initiative as giving too much ground to Tehran and demanded that it stop all enrichment activities.

Netanyahu said that if the combination of sanctions, diplomacy and "other pressures" succeeds in stopping Iran's nuclear program, "I will be the happiest person in the world."

On the subject of the Middle East peace process, Netanyahu said he supported the Palestinians' right to establish a contiguous state.

That was despite his government's announcement earlier Tuesday that it had decided to legalize the status of three settlement posts that were built in the West Bank during the 1990's, a move that angered the Palestinians.

"The continuation of settlement activities is destroying the path of peace and path of two state solution," Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said Tuesday.

Netanyahu said Tuesday that he believed he could deliver a peace agreement, if he had "a serious partner on the other side, willing to make the necessary compromises."

Asked about the U.S. presidential election this year, he chose his words carefully.

"I respect Mitt Romney as I respect Barack Obama, the president of the United States," Netanyahu said.

He insisted he didn't want to be drawn into a discussion about the race for the White House.

"I have enough politics here," he said. "I don't want to get into American politics."

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