Barack Obama
Barack Obama Reuters

US President Barack Obama on Monday rejected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's charge that Iran was given a "freebie" on its nuclear program.

Netanyahu's complaint Sunday came one day after key world powers met with Iran and announced that the next meeting would take place in late May.

"My initial impression is that Iran has been given a freebie," Netanyahu said. "It has got five weeks to continue enrichment without any limitation, any inhibition."

Obama responded Monday saying, "Now, the clock is ticking. And I've been very clear to Iran and to our negotiating partners that we're not going to have these talks just drag out in a stalling process."

"But so far, at least, we haven't given away anything - other than the opportunity for us to negotiate and see if Iran comes to the table in good faith," he said.

"And the notion that somehow we've given something away or a 'freebie' would indicate that Iran has gotten something. In fact, they've got some of the toughest sanctions that they're going to be facing coming up in just a few months if they don't take advantage of these talks. I hope they do."

Officials in Jerusalem, however, say the only thing Iran requires to develop a nuclear weapon - and gain substantial strategic leverage for future talks – is time.

This weekend's talks with Iran and the P5+1 – the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany – ended with no tangible results other than the 23 May date for more talks in Baghdad.

Netanyahu said Iran should "take immediate steps to stop all enrichment, take out all enrichment material and dismantle the nuclear facility in Qom" adding the Islamic Republic "must not have the opportunity to develop atomic bombs."

Iran insists that its nuclear program is for civilian energy purposes only.

However, In early March the head of the IAEA also said there were indications that Iran was engaged in the development of nuclear weapons, an accusation supported in a report submitted by the agency last November.

"Iran is not telling us everything. That is my impression. We are asking Iran to engage with us proactively, and Iran has a case to answer," said IAEA director Yukiya Amano.

His remarks followed two recent IAEA reports that indicated Iran had sought – and likely continues to seek – nuclear technologies of a military nature.

IAEA experts previously reported Iran's production of 20% enriched uranium is far greater than needed for peaceful purposes. They also note Iran's medical research sector is not sufficiently advanced to justify such production.

Tehran has hinted it is willing to repudiate now-hobbled President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's hardliner stance on its nuclear program and return to negotiations.

Key advisor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Mohammad Javad Larijani, said last month that the West should accept Iran's "peaceful nuclear program," sell Iran 20 percent enriched uranium, and provide the customary assistance nuclear nations provide to those building nuclear power plants.

In return for cooperation from the West Iran would offer "full transparency," Larijani said.

He did not say Iran would halt uranium enrichment – a key demand by Jerusalem and Washington to avoid military strikes – but observers say the stipulation that the West provide 20% enriched uranium indicates Iran is open to doing so.

Contrarily, Tehran's state-run IRNA reported on Saturday, "Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, said after the Istanbul meeting that talking about suspending or halting uranium enrichment was an old issue now out-of-date."

IRNA also reported that Iran regarded Saturday's talks in positive terms and said its right to a peaceful nuclear program was supported.