UNITED NATIONS/BEIRUT: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Tuesday dismissed a charm offensive by Iran’s new president as a ruse concocted by a “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” and declared that Israel was ready to act alone to prevent Tehran from obtaining an atomic weapon, a pursuit Iran says it is not interested in.
In a combative address to the U.N. General Assembly, Netanyahu spoke harshly about Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s new, centrist president who has made diplomatic overtures to the United States and who last week spoke by telephone with President Barack Obama, the first such contact since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
“Rouhani doesn’t sound like Ahmadinejad,” Netanyahu said, referring to Rouhani’s hard-line predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
“But when it comes to Iran’s nuclear weapons program, the only difference between them is this: Ahmadinejad was a wolf in wolf’s clothing, Rouhani is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a wolf who thinks he can pull the wool over the eyes of the international community,” Netanyahu added.
Iran immediately accused Netanyahu of “saber rattling.”
Khodadad Seifi, a deputy ambassador at Iran’s U.N. mission, told the General Assembly that Netanyahu’s remarks were “inflammatory.” He said Iran was “fully committed” to nuclear non-proliferation obligations.
“All Iranian nuclear activities are and have always been exclusively for peaceful purposes,” he said. “ Iran continues to fully cooperate with the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency].
“You see, Rouhani thinks he can have his yellowcake and eat it too,” Netanyahu said.
“Don’t let up the pressure,” Netanyahu said, adding the only deal that could be made with Rouhani was one that “fully dismantles Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”
The U.S., Israel and other countries accuse Iran of using its nuclear program to try to develop weapons.
“I want there to be no confusion on this point. Israel will not allow Iran to
get nuclear weapons. If Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel will stand alone. Yet, in standing alone, Israel will know that we will be defending many, many others,” Netanyahu said.
Rouhani led an Iranian drive at the world forum last week, with long-term adversaries Iran and the United States now preparing for renewed nuclear talks.
Netanyahu said Iran’s nuclear program had continued at a “vast and feverish” pace since the election of Rouhani in June.
“Like everyone else, I wish we could believe Rouhani’s words, but we must focus on Iran’s action,” Netanyahu said, adding that sanctions should be tightened if the Iranians pursue nuclear projects while negotiating with world powers.
Hours before he spoke at the U.N., Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told Iranian state TV that Netanyahu was a liar who used deception to promote his policies.
“This is his nature, to lie ... Over the past 22 years, the regime, Israel, has been saying Iran will have nuclear arms in six months,” Zarif said. “This game, in fact, is based on lying, deception, incitement and harassment.”
In a tweet he also warned Obama that “flip-flop” diplomacy threatened efforts to build trust, after the U.S. president told the Israeli premier following a meeting with him Monday that the military option remained on the table.
“President Obama needs consistency to promote mutual confidence,” Zarif said. “Flip-flop destroys trust and undermines U.S. credibility.”
The bulk of Netanyahu’s speech was about Iran, but he also touched on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, saying the Jewish state was prepared to make a “historic compromise,” but he faulted Palestinian leaders for not reciprocating enough.