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Netanyahu: I'd Consider Meeting Rouhani

Prime Minister Netanyahu says he wouldn't rule out a meeting with Iran's president, but says Rouhani's diplomatic solution is "hogwash."
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 10/4/2013, 2:13 AM

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
Flash 90

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Thursday he would not outright reject a meeting with Iran’s president, if such a meeting were proposed.

Speaking to National Public Radio (NPR) in the latest of a series of interviews he has given the American press on Iran, Netanyahu said the election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani "might" offer an opportunity for diplomacy and that he would "consider" meeting him.

"I don't care about the meeting. I don't have a problem with the diplomatic process," Netanyahu said.

Asked if this means he would not mind meeting Rouhani, Netanyahu replied, "I haven't been offered. If I'm offered, I'd consider it, but it's not an issue. If I meet with these people I'd stick this question in their face: Are you prepared to dismantle your program completely? Because you can't stay with the [nuclear] enrichment."

Netanyahu went on to cast doubt on the new, more moderate rhetoric coming out of Tehran. He said the Iranian people picked the "least bad" of the candidates, but said that Rouhani was offering "a fake deal."

Netanyahu added he'd be "delighted" by a diplomatic solution that's "real," but added, "This is all hogwash. What they say is nonsense."

Netanyahu dismissed Iran’s argument that its nuclear program was for peaceful purposes, saying Iran does not need to enrich uranium if it wants to use it for nuclear energy and for medical devices.

"The reason they insist on enrichment is because they want to maintain the path to nuclear weapons," Netanyahu told NPR.

Asked why is it that Israel can have nuclear weapons but Iran can’t, he replied, "We'll I'm not going to say what Israel has or doesn't, but I will say Israel has no designs to destroy anyone; we've not called for the destruction of a people, the annihilation of Iran or any other country.”

He added, "If we've learned anything from the history of the 20th century and not only from the 20th century, is that a regime with unbridled, radical ambitions should not get awesome power, because once they do, they will unleash it."

In an interview with NBC on Wednesday, Netanyahu urged the world to insist on tough negotiations that ensure Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon.

He cautioned against Rouhani's charm offensive, which he described as a strategy carried out to woo the West at the behest of the country's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

"[The Iranian people] are governed not by Rouhani. They're governed by Ayatollah Khamenei. He heads a cult. That cult is wild in its ambitions and its aggression," Netanyahu said.

Since being elected Rouhani, who the West has branded as a “moderate”, has indicated an interest in a deal on Iran’s nuclear program, with hopes that the harsh sanctions imposed on the country would be lifted if it negotiated more with the West.

In an address to the United Nations General Assembly last week in New York, President Barack Obama said the United States is determined to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, but would not interfere with the country’s peaceful exploration of nuclear energy.

At that General Assembly, Rouhani struck a more moderate tone than his predecessor, Ahmadinejad, which was seen as a step in the right direction by some foreign policy observers.

On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry expressed cautious hope about engaging with Iran over its nuclear program, but said Iran must take concrete steps to prove its sincerity.

Speaking Thursday in Tokyo, Kerry said nothing will be taken at face value.

"I assure Netanyahu and the people of Israel that nothing that we do is going to be based on trust," he said.

Rather, Kerry explained, "it is going to be based on a series of steps to guarantee to all of us that we have certainty on what's happening."