Netanyahu flies to US in role as spoil-sport to Iranian Rouhani's 'charm offensive'

Israeli official says PM is accustomed to role of "spoil-sport" and did so when he advised caution in early days of Arab Spring.

Netanyahu looking serious 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Ammar Awad)
Netanyahu looking serious 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ammar Awad)
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 words.
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 Tehran.
“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 official added.
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 international stage.
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.
Obama 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 1.
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 Palestinian issue.
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.”
The 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 issues.”
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.”