New York Times
July 15, 2013
JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ramped up pressure on the White House on Sunday to put the buildup of Iran’s nuclear program ahead of other crises in the Middle East, complaining of a lack of urgency on the issue and saying that the Obama administration must demonstrate “by action” to Iran’s newly elected president that “the military option which is on the table is truly on the table.”
Speaking via satellite on the CBS News program “Face the Nation,” Mr. Netanyahu expressed concern that Iran was pursuing “alternate routes” to a nuclear weapons capability, including a plutonium bomb, even while stopping just short of the specific enriched-uranium levels he had set in a speech at the United Nations last year as a “red line” for military action.
He also reiterated his familiar demands that Iran must be forced to stop all enrichment of nuclear material, ship its current stockpile out of the country and shut down a deep underground enrichment site, called Fordo, that Israeli military officials acknowledge they probably do not have the ability to destroy.
Mr. Netanyahu said those demands “should be backed up with ratcheted sanctions,” adding, “They have to know you’ll be prepared to take military action; that’s the only thing that will get their attention.”
Formally, the United States agrees with Mr. Netanyahu’s demands. But in negotiations that fell apart last spring, the Obama administration appeared willing to lift some sanctions in return for far more modest “confidence building” steps, and seems likely to be willing to leave Iran with some limited nuclear production capability in return for highly intrusive inspections.
American, European, Russian and Chinese officials are meeting on Tuesday to review the proposals that Iran rejected and to decide whether to present them anew to Iran’s president-elect, Hassan Rowhani, a former nuclear negotiator.
“We don’t know how much influence Rowhani will have,” a senior administration official told reporters in Washington on Friday, before Mr. Netanyahu’s comments. But the official added that Mr. Rowhani’s tone suggested he was “going in a different direction” and might be open to a broad deal that would result in the lifting of sanctions, particularly those that have drastically cut into Iran’s oil revenue.
The American official, briefing reporters on the condition of anonymity, added that “we are open to direct talks.”
In the interview on Sunday, Mr. Netanyahu was far more suspicious of Iran, and of Mr. Rowhani, calling him a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” whose strategy is to “smile and build a bomb.” The prime minister said that because Israel is closer and “more vulnerable,” it would “have to address this question of how to stop Iran, perhaps before the United States does.”
The CBS interview followed similar remarks Mr. Netanyahu made Sunday morning at the opening of his cabinet meeting here, part of a campaign planned in the coming days to return the world’s attention to the Iranian nuclear program. The implied criticism of Washington’s approach since Mr. Rowhani’s election came as Israeli and Palestinian officials were expecting Secretary of State John Kerry to return to the Middle East this week for his sixth visit in four months to try and revive peace talks.
On Sunday evening, Mr. Netanyahu spoke with President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority and offered greetings for the holy month of Ramadan, which began last week. “I hope that we will have an opportunity to speak to each other and not just on holidays, and that we begin negotiations,” Mr. Netanyahu said, according to a statement released by his office.
Israeli leaders were rankled by American officials’ having confirmed over the weekend that Israel had attacked a shipment of advanced Russian-made antiship missiles in Latakia, Syria, this month. Yuval Steinitz, a senior minister close to Mr. Netanyahu, said on Israeli radio that “intelligence leaks are bad whether they come from there or from here.” Uzi Landau, another government minister, added, “The less they talk, the better it is for everyone.”
Asked about the Latakia attack on “Face the Nation,” Mr. Netanyahu said that he was “not in the habit of saying what we did or we didn’t do,” but that his policy was “to prevent the transfer of dangerous weapons to Hezbollah,” the Lebanese Shiite militant organization, “and other terror groups.”
Itamar Rabinovich, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States, said in an interview that tension over revelations about Israeli operations did not threaten the two countries’ “longstanding, complex relationship with manifold interests.”
“Let’s say that Israel would rather this would not have been leaked out of Washington,” he said. “So be it. These squeaks are part of the relationship.”
Jodi Rudoren reported from Jerusalem, and David E. Sanger from Washington.