Daily Israel Report

Netanyahu: I'd Have Tough Words for Rouhani if He Called

Speaking to CNN, PM Netanyahu says he would tell Iran's president in a phone call to stop the nuclear program.
By Elad Benari, Canada
First Publish: 10/4/2013, 11:33 PM

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reiterated on Friday he would take a phone call from Iran's president, if he called, but warned that he would have tough words for him.

"We're not averse to calling," Netanyahu said in an interview with CNN's Piers Morgan in New York, repeating similar remarks he made in a separate interview with National Public Radio (NPR).

"I'll tell you what I'll tell him," he told Morgan. "'You want the sanctions lifted? Stop your nuclear program.'"

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who took office in August, has projected a more moderate image than his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Western leaders have expressed optimism about Iran's more conciliatory tone under Rouhani, whose comments in recent weeks have raised hopes that a deal could be struck over the country's controversial nuclear program.

Rouhani has called for the lifting of international sanctions, imposed over the nuclear program, that have taken a heavy toll on the Iranian economy.

In an indication of the shifting mood, he spoke with U.S. President Barack Obama by phone last week, the first direct conversation between leaders of the two countries since the Iranian revolution in 1979.

Netanyahu, however, remains skeptical about Rouhani's intentions, and he told CNN that he would have plenty of questions for Rouhani, including why Iran needs underground bunkers and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

"Why do you need to enrich uranium?" he asked, listing countries that operate civilian nuclear energy programs without enrichment, including Canada, Mexico and Indonesia.

"[These countries] don't have enrichment because enrichment -- uranium enrichment -- is how you make nuclear weapons," he added.

Iran has repeatedly insisted that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. In his speech last week at the UN General Assembly, Rouhani claimed Iran threatened no one. He stood by Iran's right to a civilian nuclear program and urged U.S. President Barack Obama to ignore "war-mongering pressure groups" and make a deal.

Israel rejected the speech, with Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz saying it had offered nothing new.

Steinitz said the new Iranian president tried "to cheat the world, and unfortunately many people are willing to be cheated."

In the CNN interview, Netanyahu was asked if he was concerned about the partial shutdown of the U.S. federal government, which has caused the United States' military aid to Israel to be held up.

Netanyahu seemed unfazed by the shutdown, telling Morgan, "They'll work it out. Been there, done that."

He defended the U.S. democratic system, saying, "I think, with all its flaws, the American political system has a lot riding for it. It's probably the best political system in the world."

(Arutz Sheva’s North American Desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)