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Kerry says not exploring all options with Iran would be 'diplomatic malpractice'

Secretary of State John Kerry attends a joint news conference Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Japanese leaders Thursday in Tokyo. Issei Kato / Pool via AP

TOKYO — Secretary of State John Kerry said here Thursday that it would be “diplomatic malpractice” not to examine all options before taking military action to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

The secretary responded to an NBC News interview in which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted on tough negotiations with Iran, a country that Netanyahu said was ruled by the head of a cult.

The new president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, has led something of a charm offensive toward the West and signaled willingness to negotiate over his country’s nuclear ambitions. Iran insists that those ambitions are peaceful.

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Netanyahu told NBC News that Rouhani is wooing the West at the direction of the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, a man Netanyahu said “heads a cult.” Israel says that Iran is intent on building a nuclear bomb and seeks the destruction of Israel.

Kerry said that the West will test — over a short period of time — whether Iran indeed seeks only a peaceful, civilian nuclear program. He said that Rouhani deserves credit for his overtures, but that Iran’s willingness to deal remains an open question.

Kerry also said that he wanted to be clear that nothing will come between the United States and Israel when it comes to protecting Israel’s security. And he rejected any suggestion that the United States is being fooled by Iran.

Netanyahu, in the NBC News interview, repeated a line from an address earlier this week to the United Nations: He called Rouhani “a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” different only in style — not policy — from his hardline predecessor.

“I say distrust, dismantle, verify,” he said.

The full interview with Netanyahu airs Thursday on the MSNBC program “Andrea Mitchell Reports,” at 1 p.m. ET.

Erin McClam reported from New York.