TEL AVIV — With fissures over Iran deepening between the United States and Israel, Secretary of State John Kerry met here Friday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before flying to Geneva to join talks over a potential interim deal on the Iranian nuclear program.
Mr. Kerry’s decision to cut short a tour of the Middle East and go to Geneva has buoyed expectations that the United States and five other major powers are poised to sign a preliminary accord with Iran, which could freeze its uranium enrichment in return for some easing of sanctions.
State Department officials tried to manage expectations, noting that Mr. Kerry had previously agreed to take part in the talks if it could help bridge gaps and that the issues on the table remained complex.
The State Department’s spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said in a statement that Mr. Kerry would go to Geneva “in an effort to help narrow the differences in the negotiations.” He is to meet with Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, and the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, who oversees the multiparty negotiations. Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, was also to join the talks on Friday.
Word of a potential deal drew a blistering response from Mr. Netanyahu. Speaking to reporters at Ben-Gurion Airport before he met with Mr. Kerry, he said, “I understand that the Iranians are walking around very satisfied in Geneva, as well they should be, because they got everything and paid nothing. Everything they wanted.”
Calling it both “the deal of the century” and a “very bad deal,” Mr. Netanyahu said, “Israel utterly rejects it.” He said his concerns were shared by other countries in the region.
“Israel is not obliged by this agreement,” he added, “and Israel will do everything it needs to defend itself and the security of its people.”
Mr. Netanyahu has lobbied fiercely in recent weeks for the United States to redouble, rather than relax, sanctions. He said a deal would be a “grievous historic error,” enabling Iran to keep enriching uranium and preserve the option of developing nuclear weapons.
Mr. Kerry was adamant during his visit to Israel this week that the West would not rush into a deal. In a joint interview with Israeli and Palestinian journalists on Thursday, he said, “I have said many times we will not make a deal that’s a bad deal, that leaves any of our friends or ourselves exposed to a nuclear weapons program.”
The United States, Mr. Kerry said, also would not dismantle its sanctions regime until it had “absolute clarity about what is happening.” Administration officials said a more likely option would be for the West to free up some Iranian assets that are frozen in overseas banks.
While Iran was expected to dominate the discussion between Mr. Kerry and Mr. Netanyahu, the secretary of state was likely to press the Israeli leader on negotiations with the Palestinians, which he tried to reinvigorate in several days of shuttle diplomacy here.
Mr. Kerry met with the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, in Amman, Jordan on Thursday evening. Mr. Abbas has complained that Israel is continuing to approve settlement construction in the West Bank, poisoning the atmosphere for direct negotiations.
Mr. Netanyahu returned fire on Wednesday, saying that the Palestinians were inciting discord and manufacturing crises in order to avoid making difficult decisions in the negotiations.
On Friday, he appeared to harden his stance further, telling reporters “I will never compromise on Israel’s security and our vital interests, not in the face of any international pressure. I think the pressure has to be put where it belongs. That is on the Palestinians who refuse to budge.”
At times this week, Mr. Kerry has appeared frustrated with the Israelis. On Wednesday, he appealed to the Israeli authorities to keep a lid on new settlement construction during the negotiations.
In his interview with Israeli and Palestinian journalists, Mr. Kerry used unusually pointed language in prodding the Israelis. “The alternative to getting back to the talks is the potential of chaos,” he said. “I mean, does Israel want a third intifada?”