Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu responded Tuesday to what Jerusalem views as
Iran’s “charm offensive” by laying down four stiff criteria for determining
whether Tehran has indeed abandoned its nuclear program.
“The way to stop
Iran’s nuclear program requires four steps: Halting all uranium enrichment;
removing all enriched uranium; closing [the uranium enrichment facility at] Qom;
and stopping the plutonium track,” Netanyahu told the cabinet.
combination of these four steps will constitute an actual stopping of the
nuclear program, and until all four of these measures are achieved, the pressure
on Iran must be increased and not relaxed, and certainly not eased,” he
The timing of his comments, according to diplomatic officials, is
related to expectations in Jerusalem that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani –
during his upcoming visit to the US and address before the UN General Assembly –
will make gestures in exchange for a relaxing of the sanctions that are severely
hampering the Iranian economy.
Netanyahu told the cabinet he would travel
to the United States at the end of the month. He will meet US President Barack
Obama in Washington on September 30, and the following day he will address the
UN General Assembly. Both the meeting and the speech will focus on Iran, he
This will be the first meeting between the two since they met in
Jerusalem in March, though they have been in frequent phone contact, especially
over the last few weeks throughout the Syria crisis.
In a reference to
that crisis, Netanyahu told the cabinet that recent regional events have
confirmed a number of Israel’s basic assumptions.
First, that a rogue
nation that arms itself with weapons of mass destruction will in the final
analysis use them; second, that only a credible military threat can make
possible diplomatic efforts to stop this type of armament; and third, that
Israel must continue to remain strong and ready to defend itself by itself
against any possible threat.
Repeating a mantra he employed at a cabinet
meeting on August 25, immediately following the use of chemical weapons in
Syria, Netanyahu again cited Hillel’s adage, “If I am not for me, who will be?”
The German weekly Der Spiegel, meanwhile, reported even before Rouhani’s address to the
UN that he was willing to shut down the Fordow uranium enrichment at Qom in
exchange for lifting sanctions.
According to intelligence sources who
spoke with the newspaper, Rouhani was willing to allow Western inspectors to
oversee the removal of centrifuges from the plant. The paper said Rouhani may
announce the offer and delve further into details during his United Nations
According to Der Spiegel, Rouhani’s foreign minister, Mohammad
Javad Zarif is due to meet European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton
in New York next week to give her a “rough outline” of the
Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz, last week in an interview
with The Jerusalem Post, warned precisely about the types of “gestures” that are
now being floated and told reporters that Israel was not interested in talk, but
He said Iran must be faced with the following dilemma: Give up
the nuclear program and save the economy or face both the collapse of the
economy and a likely military strike that will destroy the country’s nuclear
Steinitz said closing the Fordow plant, which was one of
Netanyahu’s four criteria, was “almost meaningless” since Iran had other
One diplomatic official said that Iran could make
concessions on the uranium enrichment issue because it was working in parallel
on building a bomb based on plutonium at its Arak heavy-water
Tehran, meanwhile, confirmed Tuesday that Rouhani had exchanged
letters with Obama.
An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said that
Obama had sent Rouhani a message of congratulations on the occasion of his
“This letter has been exchanged,” the spokeswoman said,
according to the ISNA news agency. “The mechanism for exchanging these letters
is through current diplomatic channels.” Though rare, it is not the first time
letters have been exchanged.
Rouhani’s predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,
wrote one to Obama three years ago, and Obama wrote twice directly to Supreme
Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in 2009 and 2012.
Obama said in an
interview broadcast on Sunday that he had exchanged letters with Rouhani. The
two men will speak on the same day at the UN General Assembly next week, though
there are currently no plans for them to meet.
Another indication that
Iran had embarked on a “charm offensive” came on Tuesday from Khamenei, who
would have to authorize any nuclear deal. In a speech, he said he supported
“flexibility” when it came to Iran’s diplomacy, though he did not say what that
might mean in practice.
Khamenei also said he supported “correct and
rational foreign and domestic policies,” but warned that Iran should not forget
that it had enemies.
Reuters and Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this