Netanyahu Warns Against 'Moderate' Rouhani As Israel Skeptical Of Iran's New Tone

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting on September 17, 2013 in Jerusalem, Israel. (Photo by Ammar Awad - Pool/Getty Images) | Getty
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JERUSALEM — Israel's prime minister on Tuesday voiced deep skepticism about the new Iranian president's outreach to the West, saying the world "should not be fooled" and must keep up the pressure on Tehran's suspect nuclear program.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued the warning shortly before the Iranian president, Hasan Rouhani, was to address the U.N. General Assembly. The televised statement was meant as a counterweight to the growing enthusiasm in the West over a series of moderate overtures by Rouhani.

Israeli officials believe Iran is trying to develop a nuclear bomb, and in recent days, officials have voiced fears that Rouhani's gestures to the West will lead to an easing of international pressure. In comments likely to play into those fears, President Barack Obama told the U.N. on Tuesday that he had instructed Secretary of State John Kerry to explore contacts with Iran.

"Israel would welcome a genuine diplomatic solution that truly dismantles Iran's capacity to develop nuclear weapons," Netanyahu said in a videotaped statement. "But we will not be fooled by half-measures that merely provide a smokescreen for Iran's continual pursuit of nuclear weapons. And the world should not be fooled either."

Netanyahu said he would discuss the matter with Obama at a White House meeting next week.

"I appreciate President Obama's statement that `Iran's conciliatory words will have to be matched by action that is transparent and verifiable,'" Netanyahu said. He claimed that Iran is merely trying to trick the world into easing painful economic sanctions so it can continue with efforts to build nuclear weapons.

"Iran thinks that soothing words and token actions will enable it to continue on its path to the bomb," Netanyahu said. "Like North Korea before it, Iran will try to remove sanctions by offering cosmetic concessions, while preserving its ability to rapidly build a nuclear weapon at a time of its choosing."

Iran denies accusations by Israel and Western countries that it is seeking nuclear weapons, saying its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.

Israel considers a nuclear-armed Iran to be a threat to its very existence, citing Iran's repeated calls for Israel's destruction, its sophisticated arsenal of weapons and its support for Israel's bitterest Arab enemies.

Netanyahu has issued four demands for halting Iran's nuclear program. He says Iran must stop enriching uranium, a key step in developing a nuclear weapon; ship its stockpile of enriched uranium out of the country; close a heavily fortified underground enrichment facility; and not make plutonium, another possible path to nuclear weapons. He also says any diplomatic activity must be accompanied by a "credible" military threat.

In the current diplomatic environment, it seems unlikely the West will insist on such conditions. Israel has repeatedly threatened to attack Iran, unilaterally if necessary, if it concludes diplomacy has failed.

Earlier, Netanyahu said he had instructed Israel's U.N. delegation to boycott Rouhani's speech and walk out of the General Assembly. Israel has strongly objected to efforts by its enemies to boycott it in international bodies, as well as attempts by pro-Palestinian activists to boycott Israeli businesses and products.

Netanyahu said that Rouhani had refused to recognize the Holocaust. He said that when Iranian leaders stop denying the Holocaust, halt their calls for Israel's destruction and recognize Israel's right to exist, then Israel will attend their speeches at the U.N.

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