Ahead of expected ‘gestures’ by Rouhani, PM urges world to remain firm on Iran nukes

Netanyahu to discuss Tehran’s overtures when meeting with Obama at end of month in Washington.

September 17, 2013 23:31
4 minute read.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu attending the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Sept. 17, 2013.

Netanyahu cabinet 17.9.13 370. (photo credit: Emil Salman/Pool)


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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.

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“Only a 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 added.

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 said.

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 speech.

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 deal.

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 actions.

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 facilities.

Steinitz said closing the Fordow plant, which was one of Netanyahu’s four criteria, was “almost meaningless” since Iran had other enrichment facilities.

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 plant.

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 election.

“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 report.

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