Drawing a thick line with a red marker on a cartoon sketch of a bomb, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told the UN General Assembly on Thursday this line needs to be drawn before Iran enters its final stage of bomb development, which he said could be next spring.
Netanyahu, who in recent weeks has been pushing relentlessly for the world to make clear to Tehran the point beyond which it would not be allowed to progress, said that red line should be before they have stockpiled enough low-grade and medium-grade uranium to begin working on high-grade uranium and a nuclear detonator.
“Where’s Iran?” he asked. “Iran has completed the first stage. It took them many years, but they completed it and they’re 70 percent of the way there,” the prime minister said. He said Tehran was well into the second stage, and would be able to move onto the final stage by next spring or summer.
Click here for the full text of PM Netanyahu's UN speech
Sounding at times like he was giving a lecture, Netanyahu – using the graph – explained that every bomb consists of explosive material, gunpowder and a fuse to light it.
“In the case of Iran’s plans to build a nuclear weapon, the gunpowder is enriched uranium. The fuse is a nuclear detonator,” he said. Netanyahu said it was much more difficult for Iran to amass enough enriched uranium – which takes thousands of centrifuges spinning in tandem in huge plants – than to produce a nuclear fuse.
This fuse, or detonator, could be produced within a few months in a small workshop.
The red line, he stressed, must be drawn before Tehran acquires the needed enriched uranium.
This position is one that Netanyahu has discussed with the US administration, in an as yet unsuccessful effort to get President Barack Obama to declare his red line.
Obama made no reference to red lines when he addressed the UN on Tuesday, and devoted just a small part of his speech to the Iranian nuclear issue.
“A nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained,” he said.
Netanyahu thanked Obama publicly for those comments, and said that the US and Israel share the goal of stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
“Israel is in discussions with the United States over this issue, and I am confident that we can chart a path forward together,” he said to the General Assembly.
Netanyahu is expected to have a phone conversation with Obama on Friday morning.
The prime minister made an apparent reference to criticism that it was inelegant of him to make an issue of the red lines with the US so close to the November presidential election, saying he was speaking about the issue now “because the Iranian nuclear calendar doesn’t take time out for anyone or for anything. I speak about it now because when it comes to the survival of my country, it is not only my right to speak; it is my duty to speak.”
The prime minister, who was speaking at a session presided over by Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor, said that neither diplomacy nor sanctions had succeeded in stopping Iran.
Clear red lines could do the job, he said.
“I believe that faced with a clear red line, Iran will back down,” the prime minister said.
Netanyahu took the podium only one speaker after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas delivered a searing attack on Israel, accusing it of a pursuing a racist policy of war and occupation and not being interested in a two-state solution.
Netanyahu devoted only 67 words of his nearly 3,300-word speech to Abbas and the Palestinians, saying, “We won’t solve our conflict with libelous speeches at the UN. That’s not the way to solve it. We won’t solve our conflict with unilateral declarations of statehood.”
The two sides needed to “sit together, negotiate together and reach a mutual compromise, in which a demilitarized Palestinian state recognizes the one and only Jewish state,” he added.
Netanyahu, speaking for the third time in front of the world body since he became prime minister in his second term in 2009, began his words by taking a swipe at Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for saying in New York this week that Israel had no roots in the region and would disappear.
“Throughout our history, the Jewish people have overcome all the tyrants who have sought our destruction,” the prime minister said. “It’s their ideologies that have been discarded by history. The people of Israel live on. We say in Hebrew Am Yisrael Chai, and the Jewish state will live forever.”
Before launching into remarks about the dismal war between the forces of fanatical Islam and the West, Netanyahu spoke of the positives of Israel that he said would not be discussed during UN debates.
“In Israel, we walk the same paths tread by our patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But we blaze new trails in science, technology, medicine, agriculture,” he said. “In Israel, the past and the future find common ground.”
He contrasted that with the fanatical Islam embodied by Iran’s rulers.
“They want to drag humanity back to an age of unquestioning dogma and unrelenting conflict,” he said. Ultimately they will fail, he declared. But, in a reference to how long it took before the world woke up to the Nazi threat 70 years ago, he added, “How many lives will be lost before it’s defeated?”
Meanwhile, in an unusual move, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney announced that Obama was likely to talk by phone on Friday to Netanyahu, saying it would come after Netanyahu’s meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday evening.
“I expect the president will have a follow-up phone call with the prime minister probably Friday,” Carney told reporters.
It is extremely rare that calls the president makes to foreign leaders are previewed by the White House, which prefers to send out read-outs once the call has concluded. The scheduled call is also unusual given that it comes just two weeks after another call between the two leaders, which lasted for more than an hour.
Obama has faced repeated criticism from Republicans and even some Democrats for not accepting Netanyahu’s request for a meeting while he is in the United States.
The White House has noted that the two men were not in New York at the same time for the opening of the UN General Assembly, though Netanyahu said he had been willing to come to Washington for a meeting.
Hilary Leila Krieger contributed to this report from Washington.