Netanyahu at U.N.: Don't trust Rouhani, Iran's overtures a ruse

Reuters

* Day after Obama meeting, Netanyahu combative at U.N.

* Iran warns Israel it will respond to any attack

* Netanyahu touches only briefly on Mideast peace process

* White House: Israel's skepticism is understandable

By Louis Charbonneau and Dan Williams

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 1 (Reuters) - Israeli Prime MinisterBenjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday dismissed a charm offensive byIran's new president as a ruse concocted by a "wolf in sheep'sclothing," and declared that Israel was ready to stand alone todeny Tehran an atomic weapon.

In a combative address to the U.N. General Assembly,Netanyahu assailed the trustworthiness of Hassan Rouhani, Iran'scentrist president who has made diplomatic overtures to theUnited States and spoke by telephone last week with PresidentBarack Obama.

"Rouhani doesn't sound like Ahmadinejad," Netanyahu said,referring to Rouhani's hardline predecessor, MahmoudAhmadinejad, whose annual U.N. addresses were stridentlyanti-Western and anti-Israel.

"But when it comes to Iran's nuclear weapons program, theonly difference between them is this: Ahmadinejad was a wolf inwolf's clothing, Rouhani is a wolf in sheep's clothing, a wolfwho thinks he can pull the wool over the eyes of theinternational community," Netanyahu said.

"This is a ruse," Netanyahu added. "It's a ploy."

Netanyahu's address, the last at this year's gathering ofworld leaders in New York, reflected Israeli worries that theemerging signs of what could become a U.S.-Iranian rapprochementmight lead to a premature easing of international sanctions andmilitary threats designed to deny Iran the means to make a bomb.

"Don't let up the pressure," Netanyahu said, adding that theonly deal that could be made with Rouhani was one that "fullydismantles Iran's nuclear weapons program."

Asked about Netanyahu's speech, White House spokesman JayCarney said Israel's "skepticism is understandable."

"After all, this is a country whose leadership untilrecently was pledging to annihilate Israel," he said, referringto Ahmadinejad's suggestions that Israel had no right to exist.

The United States, Israel and other countries accuse Iran ofusing its nuclear program to try to develop the capability toproduce weapons. Iran says the program is for peaceful energypurposes only. During his General Assembly speech last week,Rouhani said nuclear weapons "have no place in Iran's securityand defense doctrine, and contradict our fundamental religiousand ethical convictions."

The Israeli leader referred to Rouhani's 1989-2003 tenure asthe head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, a timewhen he said Iranian "henchmen" killed opposition leaders inBerlin, 85 people at a Jewish center in Buenos Aires and 19 U.S. soldiers in a bomb attack on the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia.

"Are we to believe that Rouhani, the national securityadviser of Iran at the time, knew nothing about these attacks?"Netanyahu said. "Of course he did, just as 30 years ago Iran'ssecurity chiefs knew about the bombings in Beirut that killed241 American Marines and 58 French paratroopers."

Netanyahu made clear that Israel, believed to possess theMiddle East's only atomic arsenal, was prepared to resort tounilateral military action against Iran if it deems diplomacy adead end.

"I want there to be no confusion on this point. Israel willnot allow Iran to get nuclear weapons. If Israel is forced tostand alone, Israel will stand alone. Yet in standing alone,Israel will know that we will be defending many, many others," Netanyahu said.

The bulk of his speech was about Iran, but he also touchedon the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, saying the Jewishstate was prepared to make a "historic compromise." He faultedPalestinian leaders for not reciprocating enough.

Rouhani, who took office last month after being elected inJune, projected a more moderate tone from Iran at the worldforum last week, with long-term adversaries Iran and the UnitedStates now preparing for renewed nuclear talks.

Later this month, Iran will meet with the five permanentU.N. Security Council members and Germany in Geneva to pick upfrom last week's discussions in New York that included IranianForeign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and U.S. Secretary ofState John Kerry.

IRAN WARNS ISRAEL

Iran has made clear it wants a swift deal that would liftthe crippling international sanctions against it and put an endto the decade-long standoff over its nuclear ambitions.

In a response to Netanyahu's speech, Khodadad Seifi, arepresentative of the Iranian U.N. delegation, rejected Israel'sallegations and told the 193-nation General Assembly that Iranwas "fully committed" to its nuclear nonproliferationobligations.

He warned Israel that Iran was able to respond to anyIsraeli attack, saying, "The Israeli prime minister had betternot even think about attacking Iran, let alone planning forthat."

Netanyahu said Iran's nuclear program had continued at a"vast and feverish" pace since the election of Rouhani.

"Like everyone else, I wish we could believe Rouhani'swords, but we must focus on Iran's action," Netanyahu said,adding that sanctions should be tightened if the Iranians pursuenuclear projects while negotiating with world powers.

At last year's U.N. General Assembly, Netanyahu madeheadlines when he used a marker to draw Israel's "red line"across a cartoonish bomb he displayed as a visual aid during hisspeech to illustrate advances in Iranian uranium enrichment.

"Iran has been very careful not to cross that line, but Iranis positioning itself to race across that line in the future ata time of its choosing," he said. "Iran wants to be in aposition to rush forward to build nuclear bombs before theinternational community can detect it and much less prevent it."

Although Iran did not cross that "red line", Israel worriesthat it has improved its technologies and is now capable ofdashing toward a first bomb within weeks. On Tuesday, Netanyahunoted the Iranian heavy water plant Arak that, he said, couldproduce plutonium - another potential fuel for nuclear weapons.

If there are any changes taking place in Iran, Netanyahu said, it was the result of pressure on the Islamic Republic.

"I have argued for many years, including on this podium,that the only way to peacefully prevent Iran from developingnuclear weapons is to combine tough sanctions with a crediblemilitary threat. And that policy today is bearing fruit."

Referring to the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, Netanyahusaid: "Since that time, presidents of Iran have come and gone.Some presidents were considered moderates, others hardliners."

"But they have all served that same unforgiving creed, thatsame unforgiving regime, that creed that is espoused andenforced by the real power in Iran, the dictator known as thesupreme leader, first Ayatollah (Ruholla) Khomeini and nowAyatollah (Ali) Khamenei," he said.

"President Rouhani, like the presidents who came before him,is a loyal servant of the regime," Netanyahu added.

Netanyahu also noted the thousands of years ofPersian-Jewish amity that ended with the fierce anti-Israelhostility ushered in by the 1979 revolution in Iran.

After meeting with Netanyahu on Monday, Obama reiterated hisdetermination to prevent Iran from getting nuclear arms. Bothleaders said their countries were cooperating on the issue.

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