Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu left late Saturday night for a three-day visit
to the US, where he will try to offset Iranian Prime Minister Hassan Rouhani’s
“charm offensive” by stressing that Iran must be judged by its actions, not
Government officials acknowledged that Netanyahu had his work cut
out for him, as US President Barack Obama’s telephone conversation with the
Iranian president on Friday indicated there was a new, more open attitude toward
“We are aware that in this atmosphere we are swimming against the
current,” one official said. The official added, however, that Netanyahu was
accustomed to the “spoilsport” role, having played that part as well in the
early days of the Arab Spring when he advised caution even as the West was fully
embracing the various revolutions.
“Many people now realize that he was
right when he advised caution and said the events could go either way,” the
Before heading to the US, Netanyahu directed his
ministers not to comment on the Obama-Rouhani phone call or US-Iranian
relations, in an apparent effort not to embarrass him before his scheduled
meeting with Obama in Washington on Monday.
Netanyahu’s office did not
issue any reaction to the phone call.
The prime minister is scheduled to
arrive Sunday in New York, where he is slated to meet Canadian Prime Minister
Stephen Harper, considered to be one of Israel’s best friends on the
Netanyahu will fly to Washington Monday for his
meeting with Obama, the first time they will have met since Obama’s visit to
Israel in March. While Iran will be a major focus of the discussion, the two
leaders are also expected to spend time talking about the ongoing negotiations
with the Palestinians.
Obama, during his speech to the UN last week, said
solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was one of the US’s two primary goals
in the Middle East, along with stopping Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. US
Secretary of State John Kerry indicated in a speech he gave last week that Obama
was poised to take a more active role in the negotiation process.
met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last week in New York, and Kerry said
that Obama, Netanyahu and Abbas would “be consulting among each other” when
appropriate to move the process forward.
Netanyahu is also slated to meet
US Vice President Joe Biden and Kerry in Washington, as well as with
congressional leaders during a going-away reception for outgoing Israeli
Ambassador Michael Oren. The Obama-Netanyahu meeting will take place on Oren’s
last day on the job; he will be formally replaced by Ron Dermer on October
Netanyahu will fly back to New York on Monday evening, for his speech
to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday. He is expected to spend the bulk of that
speech trying to “take the mask off” of Rouhani’s facade, and argue to the world
that it would be a mistake to lessen the pressure on Iran before it takes the
concrete steps necessary to halt its nuclear program.
Netanyahu has said
Iran must take four steps to show it is serious about halting its program: Stop
all uranium enrichment, transfer the enriched uranium it has accumulated out of
the country, close down the Fordow uranium enrichment plant and stop working on
a plutonium channel to a nuclear bomb.
Following his UN address,
Netanyahu will meet UN Secretary-General Ban Kimoon, and is also expected to
give a number of interviews to the US media.
While the emphasis of his
address to the UN will be on Iran, he is also expected to discuss the
In a related matter, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, the
head of Israel’s negotiating team with the Palestinians, and chief Palestinian
negotiator Saeb Erekat, briefed the Middle East Quartet on the status of the
negotiations during a Quartet meeting held Friday on the sidelines of the UN
General Assembly. The meeting was attended by Kerry, Ban, Russian Foreign
Minister Sergey Lavrov, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, and Quartet
envoy Tony Blair.
Following the meeting, the Quartet issued a statement
saying that it “reaffirmed its determination to lend effective support to the
efforts of the parties and their shared commitment to reach a permanent status
agreement within the agreed goal of nine months.”
The nine-month goal
would mean an agreement by April.
The Quartet “commended” Netanyahu and
Abbas for their “leadership” and “commitment to remaining engaged in sustained
and continuous negotiations to address all of the core issues.”
statement said the Quartet “called on all parties to take every possible step to
promote conditions conducive to the success of the negotiating process and to
refrain from actions that undermine trust or prejudge final status
The statement also “noted the importance of both sides
demonstrating a commitment to improving the atmosphere for the negotiations,
including through positive messages by the leaders.”