PM Netanyahu with NBC's Andrea Mitchell 370.
(photo credit: GPO / Kobi Gideon)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continued his public relations campaign against the Iranian government on Wednesday, telling an American television network that Iran's government is a "cult."
"[The Iranian people] are governed not by [President Hassan] Rouhani. They're governed by Ayatollah Khamenei. He heads a cult. That cult is wild in its ambitions and its aggression," Netanyahu told NBC News' Andrea Mitchell.
Netanyahu, who is in the United States after his appearance at the United Nations General Assembly, is eager to convince Americans that pressure on Iran needs to be maintained despite the election of Rouhani, whom some perceive as a moderate with whom Washington can negotiate.
"He calls the shots, Khamenei. [Rouhani] tells him — he tells his boss, the dictator of Iran, 'I can get you the completion of the nuclear program by speaking nicely to the West. I can — what [former President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad tried to do with a frown, I'll do with a smile,'" Netanyahu said.
The premier told NBC that while Rouhani may appear moderate, Tehran's nuclear ambitions remain unchanged.
"[Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad was a wolf in wolf's clothing. And Rouhani is a wolf in sheep's clothing. But it doesn't mean we should let him...pull the wool over our eyes," he told Mitchell.
"I say, distrust, dismantle, verify,” he added.
Netanyahu argued strongly against a relaxing of sanctions that have seriously hampered the Iranian economy.
"They're on the ropes. If you want to knock out Iran's nuclear weapons program peacefully, then don't let up the pressure," Netanyahu urged. "Keep the sanctions up. And that will prevent Iran from arming itself. And that, too, will prevent the next war. Be firm to prevent the next war."