Now is the time to strengthen the sanctions against Iran, and not to be fooled – at the precise moment when they appear to have impacted Tehran – into weakening them, said Home Front Defense Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud).

“The worst thing would be to stop the sanctions. Our goal is convincing the world that now is the time to continue and not to weaken the sanctions,” Erdan said.

He spoke with The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, in advance of his departure Saturday night for the United States with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

The prime minister and his delegation fly to New York and Washington to warn against the increased danger of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. Netanyahu will speak of this threat when he meets with US President Barack Obama in Washington on Monday and when he addresses the UN General Assembly in New York on Tuesday.

The Israeli delegation arrives in the US at a time when Obama has softened his stance against Iran in response to Tehran’s newly conciliatory tone, which has renewed belief in Washington that a diplomatic solution is possible.

On Thursday in New York, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was set to hold an unusual meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry as well as diplomats from Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany at a session aimed at jump-starting efforts to resolve a decade-long standoff over Iran’s nuclear program.

Israel is not opposed to diplomacy, said Erdan, who is the only minister traveling with Netanyahu and who – along with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon – is one of the only two Likud ministers in the security cabinet.

But Israel is concerned that as a result of renewed dialogue with Tehran, the US and the international community would agree to weaken and/or remove some sanctions against them.

Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani was elected on the strength of promises he made to improve the economic situation in his country, a pledge he can only keep if sanctions are repealed, Erdan said, arguing that Rouhani has softened his stance against the West precisely for that reason.

Erdan warned that the new Iranian president wants to lull the West into believing that negotiations can eliminate the threat of his country’s nuclear weapons program – even as Iran continues to build such weapons.

It is expected that in Netanyahu’s speech to the UN, he will compare Tehran’s strategy toward the West with that of North Korea, which engaged in diplomacy until it had nuclear weapons.

The problem is that Iran’s nuclear program is hidden, Erdan said. “People can’t see the centrifuges spinning or the plutonium core power plant.

“What they see or what they hear is only the new president Rouhani and the nice words he is saying, talking about peace. He does not shout. He speaks quietly, calmly. That is what the world sees and hears,” Erdan said.

“I pray that I’m mistaken,” Erdan continued, but “what we see since he was elected is not only that nothing stopped, but exactly the opposite: They got better centrifuges that work faster.

“The fact that Rouhani didn’t even shake Obama’s hand proves that nothing has changed. The guy who decides everything is [Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah] Khamenei, and he [Rouhani] is the pretty face that Iran is sending.”

Erdan said that Rouhani’s speech to the UN was hypocritical, talking about human rights and denouncing terrorists while his country is helping Syrian President Bashar Assad in his attacks against civilians.

A few days before heading to the United Nations General Assembly, Rouhani participated in a military march in which missiles on trucks bore words about destroying Israel, Erdan said.

In their discussions with US and international diplomats, Erdan and Netanyahu plan to explain that Iran must meet four conditions before sanctions are eased. These including halting uranium enrichment and removing that material from its country.

Iran must also dismantle its nuclear facility in Qum and stop building a nuclear reactor at Arak.

“Until the four conditions are met exactly, everyone should exert pressure on Iran and not do the opposite,” Erdan said.

He noted that under the tenure of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad it was easier to explain the threat Iran posed, particularly when he spoke against Western values or threatened to wipe Israel off the map.

But he said it is important that their message is heard, because a nuclear Iran is not just a threat to Israel, but to the world.

While in New York, Erdan will meet separately with the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to strengthen its ties with Israel and to learn from it how better to prepare for disasters such as earthquakes and fires.

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