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Netanyahu, at U.N., urges wariness of Iran


UNITED NATIONS – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged foreign dignitaries Tuesday to view Iran’s latest diplomatic charm offensive with distrust and warned that Israel would act alone, if necessary, to prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon.

“Israel will never acquiesce to nuclear arms in the hands of a rogue regime that repeatedly promises to wipe us off the map,” Netanyahu said in an address at the U.N. General Assembly in New York. “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.”

Speaking just days after President Obama’s historic phone call with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Netanyahu appealed to a gathering that included Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to cast a skeptical eye on Iran’s pledge to strike a nuclear deal, saying that Tehran has repeatedly employed diplomatic outreach in the past to disguise its plans to build a nuclear bomb.

The Israeli leader said that while Rouhani’s conciliatory rhetoric sets him apart from his confrontational predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, both men remain committed to the same goal, developing a nuclear bomb.

“Now I know Rouhani doesn’t sound like Ahmadinejad,” Netanyahu said, “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.”

An Iranian diplomat with Iran’s U.N. delegation, Khodadad Seifi, responded swiftly, warning that “the Israeli prime minister had better not even think about attacking Iran, let alone planning for that.”

Netanyahu, Seifi said, should take care to avoid misunderstanding Iran. “Iran’s centuries-old policy of nonaggression must not be interpreted as its inability to defend itself,” he said.

The Israeli leader’s remarks to the U.N. General Assembly followed a week of intensive diplomatic exchanges between the United States and Iran, including a meeting of major powers’ foreign ministers that brought Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif together at U.N. headquarters to discuss Iran’s nuclear program. The flurry of exchanges culminated with Obama’s phone call Friday to Rouhani, marking the first direct conversation between U.S. and Iranian leaders in more than 30 years.

Obama is exploring a possible diplomatic opening with Rouhani, who has pledged to rebuild Tehran’s relationship with Washington and its Western allies. The two leaders have instructed their top diplomats to work with other world powers to resolve the dispute over Iran’s nuclear intentions.

“We have to see if in fact they are serious about their willingness to abide by international norms and international law and international requirements and resolutions, ” Obama said Monday, following a meeting at the White House with Netanyahu. “But we enter into these negotiations very clear-eyed they will not be easy and anything that we do will require the highest standards of verification.”

The United States, its European allies and Israel say that Iran is enriching uranium to fuel a nuclear-weapons program. Iran maintains that it has no intention of building a nuclear bomb but needs an indigenous capacity to enrich uranium to meet its own energy needs.

Netanyahu accused Rouhani — who served as Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator from 2003 to 2005 — of having been the “mastermind” of a diplomatic strategy that allowed Tehran to advance its nuclear weapons program “behind a smokescreen of diplomatic engagement and very smooth rhetoric.”

“He fooled the world once, now he thinks he can fool it again,” he said. “Rouhani thinks he can have his yellow cake and eat it, too.”

The Israeli leader recalled that the international community had once placed its hopes in the prospect of a diplomatic resolution to another nuclear crisis — this one in North Korea. In 2005, the Bush administration reached an agreement with the North Korean government to dismantle it nuclear-weapons program in exchange for sanctions relief, fuel and other commercial incentives. A year later, he recalled, the North tested its first nuclear bomb.

The “only diplomatic solution” to the nuclear crisis, Netanyahu said, is to “fully dismantle Iran’s nuclear program and prevent it from having one in the future.”

A meaningful deal, he said, would require the cessation of Iran’s uranium enrichment, the transfer of enriched uranium out of the country and the dismantling of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure to eliminate its ability to produce plutonium and establish a “break-out” capacity to quickly start a weapons program. In the meantime, he said, the international community must maintain tough sanctions and a credible threat of force.

Seifi, the Iranian diplomat, said that Netanyahu’s “inflammatory” remarks were calculated to “mislead” the U.N. General Assembly about Iran’s intentions, only this time “without [the aid of a] cartoon drawing,” a reference to Netanyahu’s visual representation at the United Nations a year ago of Iran’s progress toward a bomb.

“All Iran’s nuclear activities are, and have always been, exclusively for peaceful purposes,” Seifi said. “We believe building mutual trust is possible only by resorting to the force of logic, not the logic of force. The solution is neither through threat or sanctions.”

© 2013, The Washington Post 

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