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Feb 28, 11:04 AM EST

Iran official criticizes Israeli leader's 'scaremongering'


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TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran's top nuclear negotiator said Saturday that "scaremongering" by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won't stop the Islamic Republic and world powers from reaching a final nuclear deal.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the world should not allow the hard-line Israeli leader to undermine peace. He was referring to Netanyahu's planned speech at the U.S. Congress next week on the emerging nuclear deal that he considers dangerous.

"Through scaremongering, falsification, propaganda and creating a false atmosphere even inside other countries, (Israel) is attempting to prevent peace," Zarif told reporters during a joint news conference Saturday with his Italian counterpart, Paolo Gentiloni. "I believe that these attempts are in vain and should not impede reaching a (nuclear) agreement."

In his sharpest criticism yet, Netanyahu said earlier this week that world powers "have given up" on stopping Iran from developing nuclear weapons in ongoing negotiations. Israel views a nuclear-armed Iran as threatening its very existence.

Netanyahu's planned address has further strained his relationship with the Obama administration, as America is a key ally to Israel. Netanyahu's speech in the U.S. also comes ahead of March elections in Israel.

"Netanyahu is opposed to any solution and (his planned speech in U.S. Congress) signifies his attempts to use an untrue issue and a fabricated crisis to cover up realities in our region, including the occupation (and) suppression of the Palestinian people, violation of rights of Palestinians and continuation of invasive policies," Zarif said.

The West fears Iran could build an atomic bomb with its nuclear program. Iran says its program is for peaceful purposes such as energy production and medical research.

Iran and the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany reached an interim accord in November 2013. Now, negotiators hope to reach a rough draft of a deal on Iran's disputed nuclear program by the end of March and a final agreement by June 30.

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