Netanyahu to Urge Caution in U.S. Response to Iran Overtures

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will visit the U.S. next week to urge President Barack Obama and the United Nations to judge Iran by its actions and not the overtures of new President Hassan Rohani.

Obama and Rohani are attending the opening of the UN General Assembly today amid indications from both leaders that U.S.-Iran relations may be heading for a thaw, possibly paving the way for a compromise over Iran’s nuclear program and the easing of international sanctions it has triggered.

Concern that the U.S. and its allies might be tempted to ease penalties on Iran ahead of any agreement has prompted Netanyahu and other Israeli officials to issue warnings over Rohani’s more conciliatory tone toward the West, which stands in contrast to that adopted by his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“Iran thinks that soothing words and token actions will enable it to continue on its path to the bomb,” Netanyahu said in an e-mailed statement. “Israel would welcome a genuine diplomatic solution that truly dismantles Iran’s capacity to develop nuclear weapons. But we will not be fooled by half-measures.”

‘Serial Refuser’

Netanyahu instructed the Israeli delegation to the General Assembly to leave the hall during Rohani’s speech today, as they did last year during Ahmadinejad’s address, the prime minister’s office said. Finance Minister Yair Lapid, whose Yesh Atid party is the second biggest faction in Netanyahu’s Likud-led coalition, criticized the decision as a mistake.

“Israel does not need to be perceived as a serial refuser of negotiations, as being not interested in solutions on the road to peace,” Lapid said in a text message. “We should let the Iranians be the deniers of peace, and not look like the ones who aren’t open to change.”

At meetings in Washington and New York, including one with Obama on Sept. 30, Netanyahu will stress that since Rohani’s election Iran has continued to upgrade uranium enrichment and plutonium production facilities, according to an official in the Prime Minister’s Office, speaking anonymously because he’s not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

Rohani’s “charm offensive” is no more than a cover for these activities, the official said, adding that Israel has no position on the U.S. engaging in direct diplomacy with Iran’s leadership.

Kerry Talks

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will meet in New York with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on Sept. 26, in the highest-level formal talks between the two nations since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Israel says that Iran aims to develop nuclear weapons that pose an existential threat, and only tough economic sanctions backed by a credible pledge to use force can halt its plans. Iran says its nuclear program is intended only for peaceful civilian purposes.

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.

“While Israel may express itself differently from countries that aren’t directly threatened by Iran, that’s a matter mainly of tone,” Zalman Shoval, a former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. who advises Netanyahu on international affairs, said in a phone interview. “Right now there’s very little space between Israel and the U.S. on basic Iran policy.”

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