Israel’s prime minister and his allies expressed concern that President Barack Obama’s phone call with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani may signal that efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear program will stall.
“I will tell the truth in the face of the sweet-talk and onslaught of smiles,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters as he boarded his plane for the U.S., where he will meet Obama and speak before the United Nations. Netanyahu landed in New York early today and will visit the White House tomorrow.
The Israeli leaders spoke after the historic call between Rouhani and Obama, the highest-level U.S.-Iranian encounter since before Iran’s Islamic revolution of 1979. Netanyahu has expressed skepticism about the motives behind Rouhani’s initiative and suggested Iran is trying to buy time to develop the capability to make a nuclear weapon. Iran says its nuclear program is for civilian needs such as electricity.
“Every attempt to enforce UN resolutions on Iran to show transparency and offer proof that they have no plans for a nuclear arms program has failed until now,” said Tzachi Hanegbi, head of the Israeli parliament’s House committee and a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party.
“The Iranian nuclear program is at a critical point,” he said, calling for tougher sanctions. “We don’t want the Americans to waste this critical year with worthless talk.”
While Israel has never acknowledged having atomic weapons, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington-based policy study group, estimates that the Jewish state possesses enough material for between 100 and 170 weapons. Israel has refused to open its nuclear facility in Dimona to UN inspectors.
President Shimon Peres was among the few prominent voices who criticized the “disparaging tone” used against Obama’s approach, telling Army Radio, “Other people also have insight, not just us.”
Netanyahu has laid out four specific conditions Iran must agree to before the U.S. and Europe lift sanctions: halting all uranium enrichment, removing all enriched material, closing the reactor at Fordo, near the city of Qom, and stopping plutonium production.
“Rouhani’s assault of reconciliation is only another deceitful trick,” Avigdor Liberman, former foreign minister and head of parliament’s foreign affairs and defense committee, said in comments posted on his Facebook page.
“Everyone should remember that in the 1980s it was only Israel that warned about the Iraqi reactor, then acted and was proved right,” he said, referring to Israel’s bombing of the Iraqi nuclear facility in 1981.