Speaking just days after President Obama’s historic phone call with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Netanyahu appealed to a gathering that included Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to cast a skeptical eye on Iran’s pledge to strike a nuclear deal. He said Tehran has repeatedly employed diplomatic outreach in the past to disguise its plans to build a nuclear bomb.
In contrast with Netanyahu’s uncompromising message and tacit threat of a military strike, Obama has delivered a more optimistic assessment on Iran and has said that he is determined to pursue a diplomatic solution to the standoff over the country’s nuclear program.
Although criticized immediately by the Iranian delegation, Netanyahu’s hard-line position could give Tehran incentive to make headway during international negotiations, which have proved fruitless in the past.
In Washington, White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters after Netanyahu’s speech that “it is absolutely worth pursuing” a negotiated and “verifiable” resolution with Iran’s new president, who like his immediate predecessor has said that the nation’s nuclear program is not designed to build a bomb.
“The important measuring stick when it comes to pursuing this diplomatic opening with Iran is action — what actions are being taken by Iran that demonstrate that they are interested in fulfilling their obligations to the international community,” Carney said. “Words here are meaningful, but actions are most meaningful.”
In his speech, Netanyahu said that although Rouhani’s conciliatory rhetoric sets him apart from his confrontational predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, both men remain committed to the goal of developing a nuclear bomb.
“Now I know Rouhani doesn’t sound like Ahmadinejad,” Netanyahu said. “But when it comes to Iran’s nuclear weapons program, the only difference between them is this: Ahmadinejad was a wolf in wolf’s clothing; Rouhani is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a wolf who thinks he can pull the wool over the eyes of the international community.”
An Iranian diplomat at the United Nations, Khodadad Seifi, responded swiftly, warning that “the Israeli prime minister had better not even think about attacking Iran, let alone planning for that.”
“Iran’s centuries-old policy of nonaggression must not be interpreted as its inability to defend itself,” said Seifi, who used the Jewish state’s name rather than the previously preferred “Zionist entity” terminology to refer to Israel.