Following his speech at the UN, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reinforced his message to the American public, extending his trip to the US by a day to grant multiple media interviews.
Netanyahu, relentless in his criticism of the government in Iran, on Wednesday gave a background briefing to top US media executives, including the presidents of all major networks, before granting interviews to PBS’s Charlie Rose – who last month interviewed Syrian President Bashar Assad – NBC’s Andrea Mitchell and the Hispanic network Univision.
The decision to speak with Univision is part of Israel’s ongoing efforts to make inroads into the Hispanic community, the fastest growing ethnic group in the US with a population estimated at over 50 million.
Michael Oren, who ended his term on Monday as ambassador to the US, told The Jerusalem Post last month that whenever he traveled to communities with large Hispanic populations, he met with the Hispanic leadership, and he has done numerous interviews on Spanish-language television.
Israel’s challenge with that community, Oren said, was that “there are large parts... that don’t know us, or maybe what they do know is not accurate. We have to reach out.”
Netanyahu also met with former secretary of state Henry Kissinger and addressed Jewish leaders in New York. He has four broadcast interviews scheduled for Thursday before flying home.
At the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, Netanyahu demanded that Iran fully dismantle both its plutonium and its uranium enrichment programs, calling them unquestionably sinister, and he referred to Rouhani as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
“Presidents of Iran have come and gone. Some presidents were considered moderates, others hard-liners.
But they have all served that same unforgiving creed, that same unforgiving regime,” Netanyahu declared. “President Rouhani, like the presidents who came before him, is a loyal servant of the regime.”
Netanyahu said that Israel would “stand alone” if it must in preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said US President Barack Obama sympathized with the Israeli leader, calling his skepticism of Rouhani – which dominated the speech – “entirely justifiable.”
“This is a country whose leadership, until recently, was pledging to annihilate Israel,” Carney said on Tuesday.
“Their skepticism is understandable. And we share with Israel and with Prime Minister Netanyahu the same goal and the same firm policy, which is, Iran cannot be allowed to have a nuclear weapon.”
But when asked about Netanyahu’s speech, in which the prime minister demanded a complete halt to all enrichment, State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf made it clear that the US holds a different position.
“The president was clear when he spoke at UNGA, when he said... ultimately, they do have a right to a peaceful nuclear program,” Harf said.
Senior administration officials believe that Rouhani has come to the table not out of goodwill, but out of necessity: sanctions have taken a toll on Iran’s ability to function, and his election to the presidency – on a promise of sanctions relief – make sincere negotiations an imperative of his government.
A study published jointly by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and Roubini Global Economics supports that theory, claiming that Iran’s government has unencumbered access to only $20 billion in foreign exchange reserves.
Such shallow support for the rial, Iran’s currency, puts its economy at risk of meltdown should a shock occur, prompted by further sanctions or another drop in oil exports.
Secretary of State John Kerry was in Japan on Wednesday, where a senior State Department official said he would discuss with his counterparts upcoming negotiations with Iran. Japan holds Iranian government accounts running in surplus, but they can only access the account to purchase non-sanctionable goods, such as humanitarian supplies.
Japan has slowly weaned itself off of Iranian oil since the international community began tightening sanctions in earnest in 2011.
The Obama administration has reserved the right to exempt companies in allied countries, such as Japan, from sanctioning, so long as they make a demonstrable effort to find other oil providers. But a bill out of the House of Representatives, now with language in the Senate, would close those loopholes and aim to drag Iranian exports effectively down to zero.
While Netanyahu, at the White House on Monday, called on Obama to tighten sanctions, senior administration officials say they oppose the elimination of these waivers, fearing such a policy will tie their hands as they enter diplomatic talks.