Netanyahu warns against trusting Iran's new leader
Criticism intense as Hassan Rouhani and Barack Obama explore warmer relations
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu laced into the charm offensive of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani Tuesday, warning that the new Iranian leader is no different from his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
In a speech to the United Nations General Assembly, the Israeli leader said Iran continues to prepare the means to create nuclear weapons, along with intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching New York. It is merely paying lip service to peace, he said.
"I wish I could believe Rouhani, but I don't, because facts are stubborn things," Netanyahu said.
He called Ahmadinejad "a wolf in wolf's clothing," while the smiling Rouhani is "a wolf in sheep's clothing."
He said Israel will not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons, even if it stands alone, because Israel's future is threatened by a "nuclear-armed" Iran seeking its destruction.
The pressure on Iran must continue, Netanyahu said, especially sanctions against the country, until Iran fully dismantles its nuclear program.
"The international community has Iran on the ropes …. Don't let up the pressure, " he said.
"Here's my advice: distrust, dismantle, and verify."
Earlier Tuesday, Netanyahu was attacked by Iran's foreign minister as a "liar" who is being isolated at the United Nations. The insults came hours before Netanyahu was scheduled to address the General Assembly.
The Tuesday remarks by Mohammad JavadZarif in New York were broadcast on Iranian state TV. He called the Israeli leader a liar who requires deception to promote his policies.
On Monday, Netanyahu implored U.S. President Barack Obama to maintain punishing sanctions in place against Tehran — and even tighten them if the Islamic republic advances its disputed nuclear programs while negotiating with the U.S.
"This is his nature, to lie …," Zarif said. "Over the past 22 years, the regime, Israel, has been saying Iran will have nuclear arms in six months. The continuation of this game, in fact, is based on lying, deception, incitement and harassment."
He also called Netanyahu the "most isolated individual" at the UN.
The tough language takes place amid speculation that relations between the U.S. and Iran may be improving for the first time in decades.
Visiting the United Nations last week, newly elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani appeared to be reaching out to Obama while he visited New York. The overtures between the two were capped by a 15-minute phone call between the two.
Iran and Israel see each other as arch enemies. Tehran does not recognize the Jewish state, and supports anti-Israeli militants like Lebanon's Hezbollah and Palestinian Hamas.
Israel has threatened to strike Iranian nuclear installations the West suspects have a military dimension. Iran denies the charge, saying its nuclear program is aimed at peaceful purposes like power generation and cancer treatment.
With files from The Associated Press