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Netanyahu: Top Priority Blocking Iran Nuke

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says ensuring that Iran does not gain nuclear weapons will be the most important job of his new administration.

President Shimon Peres on February 2 formally asked Netanyahu to form a new governing coalition in the wake of Israel’s January 22 general elections.

Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud-Beteinu faction emerged from the vote as the biggest party, controlling 31 seats in the 120-member Knesset.

If he succeeds in forming a coalition, Netanyahu will begin his third term as prime minister.

After accepting the mandate to form the coalition, Netanyahu said preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear arms would be the "paramount task” of his new government.

He also spoke of the threat of “other deadly weaponry” in the region, but gave no details.

"The paramount task of the government that I will form will be to stop Iran from arming itself with nuclear weapons," he said. "We will also have to deal with other deadly weaponry that is being amassed around us and threatens our cities and citizens."

Iran denies allegations from Israel and Western nations that it is seeking to make nuclear weapons.

In referring to other weapons, reports say Netanyahu may have been alluding to arms caches in war-torn Syria.

Sources say Israel carried out an air raid targeting a suspected weapons convoy in Syria last week. Israel has not commented on the reports.

Netanyahu also pledged his government would be committed to seeking peace with the Palestinians, and urged Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas to return to negotiations.

"The next government that I will form will be committed to peace," Netanyahu said. "Every day that passes without us talking to jointly find a way to create peace for our peoples is a day wasted."

There have been no significant Israeli-Palestinian talks for more than two years. Palestinians have refused to take part in negotiations, demanding that Israel halt all settlement building on land the Palestinians want as part of a future state.

President Peres said he decided to ask Netanyahu to form a new coalition after parties controlling 82 seats in the Knesset recommended that Netanyahu return as prime minister.

Netanyahu has up to six weeks to cobble together a coalition. He is expected to seek the participation of the new centrist Yesh Atid, or There is a Future, party, which won the second most seats in the elections, as well as pro-settler and religious parties.

Reports say building the coalition could require difficult negotiations, as the potential coalition partners have sharp differences over some issues. These include Yesh Atid’s proposal that ultra-Orthodox Jewish men no longer be exempted from compulsory military service.

Netanyahu said he hoped to form a broad-based “national unity” administration.

Netanyahu would become the first Israel prime minister in 50 years to serve three terms in office. His first term was from 1996 to 1999, and he returned for a second term after the 2009 elections.

Based on reporting from AP, Reuters and dpa
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