By HERB KEINON, HILARY LEILA KRIEGER, JPOST CORRESPONDENTS
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met with leaders of countries largely friendly to Israel Wednesday after a tough round of conversations with US President Barack Obama and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas the day before, followed by a meeting with France.
Netanyahu's 45-minute conversation with French Prime Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, in which he was accompanied only by his military attache Meir Kalifi and National Security Adviser Uzi Arad, was believed to have focused on Iran, though no official announcement was issued after the talks.
France is seen as particularly crucial for taking a tough line on Iran, as it has been one of the European countries most outspoken about the prospect of sanctions and has indicated a willingness to contemplate unilateral EU moves.
Though French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner seemed to throw cold water on an American-originated idea of cutting off petroleum supplies to Iran should it not comply with international demands over its nuclear program, Sarkozy addressed the threat of Iran directly in his remarks before the General Assembly on Wednesday.
"If they rely on a passive response from the international community in order to pursue their military nuclear program, they will be making a tragic mistake," Sarkozy said of the Iranians.
Speaking of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he also stressed, "We have waited too long to restore peace to the Middle East, by giving the Palestinian people the state to which they are entitled as a matter of law and justice, and by giving Israel the right to live in security, a right that the tragedies of history have made so necessary for them. So we know what remains to be done."
Netanyahu was scheduled to meet Wednesday evening - around the same time Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was to address the UN General Assembly - with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and separately with the leaders of Canada, Australia and New Zealand after press time.
Ahead of their meeting, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key criticized the UN's historical treatment of Israel.
"It hasn't always been friendly, and I think that it's important that all sides believe that they can come here and be treated on the merits of the case, not on previous prejudices," he told The Jerusalem Post on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly opening.
He said that he was looking forward to the meeting with Netanyahu, at which the issue of Middle East peace would be a top priority.
Key emphasized that he saw Wellington as an "honest broker."
"We intend to treat the Israeli and the Palestinian sides evenly," he said. "We certainly want to see peace in the Middle East.
"We see the tremendous challenges that lie ahead, particularly contested areas like the Gaza Strip. But New Zealand will give even-handed support to both Israel and Palestine."
Aside from these diplomatic meetings, Netanyahu, who flew to New York earlier than planned to participate in the meeting with Obama and Abbas on Tuesday, was left with a relatively light schedule.
He filled it largely with interviews with American media outlets, speaking emphatically about the threat of Iran, which is expected to be a major focus of the speech Netanyahu will deliver to the General Assembly on Thursday.
In his ABC interview on Tuesday, Netanyahu, when asked about the US decision to engage with Iran, said Obama had assured him "time and again that the goal is to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. And I think that's the right goal. There is a growing awareness in Washington, I believe in European capitals and elsewhere, that the development or acquisition of Iran of nuclear weapons is something that endangers world peace."
Netanyahu, who said that Iran was unquestionably getting close to nuclear weapons, urged strong sanctions, saying the Ahmadinejad regime was "a lot weaker than people think, and I think the civilized countries are lot stronger than they tend to think about themselves."
Contrary to conventional wisdom that prevailed before the violent aftermath that followed Iran's June elections, Netanyahu said, "the application of external pressure, I think, would not coalesce the people of Iran with the government. It will actually coalesce them against the government, because they truly detest this regime.
"So, I think Iran is susceptible to pressure today. It's highly dependent on the importation of refined petroleum. There are other things that could be done to weaken this regime, and they should be done quickly."
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