Netanyahu Will Meet Obama to Press Tougher Sanctions on Iran

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet with U.S. President Barack Obama to press for tougher sanctions to stop Iran’s nuclear program, just as the Islamic Republic is seeking to ease them.

Netanyahu said today at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem that he will meet Obama at the end of September when he travels to the U.S. to speak at the United Nations General Assembly. The meeting will take place at the White House on Sept. 30, according to an Israel government official who was not authorized to speak on the record.

Israel considers Iran to be a threat to its survival because of its nuclear program and arsenal of long-range missiles capable of striking the Jewish state. Netanyahu has repeatedly dismissed Iran’s assertions that its nuclear program is peaceful, saying “all options are on the table” to prevent the Iranians from building a bomb, including a military strike.

The Israeli leader reiterated four steps he has demanded Iran take: halt all uranium enrichment, remove all enriched uranium, close the Fordo enrichment facility near Qom, and stop plutonium production.

“Only a combination of these four steps will constitute an actual stopping of the nuclear program, and until all four are achieved, the pressure on Iran must be increased and not relaxed, and certainly not eased,” Netanyahu said, according to an e-mailed statement from his office.

Cautions West

The Israeli prime minister has cautioned the West against thinking Iranian President Hassan Rohani, elected in June after pledging to ease his country’s isolation, is a moderate. Rohani’s government has indicated it would like to negotiate a deal with the U.S. and its allies to ease the sanctions they’ve imposed in an effort to curb Iran’s nuclear program.

“The governments of the U.S. and Israel over the past four years have have cooperated closely in order to coordinate our positions,” American ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro said today, in remarks broadcast on Army Radio. “This next meeting will be another opportunity for President Obama and the prime minister to continue their coordination toward a joint objective.”

Obama, like Netanyahu, has said he would not tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran and that military force was an option to prevent that from happening.

Ready to Resolve

Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, said yesterday in Vienna that his country “will facilitate the resolution of this issue if the other side is willing.”

Rohani is ready to decommission the Fordo facility in exchange for an easing of sanctions, the German news outlet Der Spiegel reported yesterday, citing unidentified intelligence officials.

Israeli Minister of Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinitz today rejected that step as insufficient.

“It’s a small step that by itself is meaningless,” Steinitz said on Israel’s Army Radio. “Why? Because most of the centrifuges are not there.”

Shapiro sounded a more hopeful note than Israeli officials regarding the possibility of a reaching a diplomatic solution with the new Iranian leadership.

“Now that we are at the beginning of a new Iranian government, I assume there will be an opportunity to open a diplomatic dialogue, so let’s see what develops,” Shapiro said. “We’re not putting down an exact timetable on the negotiating table because it will take time -- not too much time -- to see if there is a change in the new Iranian government’s approach.”

Netanyahu, in his cabinet remarks, drew a comparison between the Iran nuclear standoff and the U.S.-Russian deal to decommission the chemical weapons held by Syria, Iran’s closest ally.

That situation demonstrated that “a credible military threat” is needed to reinforce diplomatic efforts to strip “rogue states” of their weapons of mass destruction, he said.

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