Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday ruled out the possibility of any direct talks with Iran’s new president over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, which Netanyahu maintains is aimed at developing nuclear weapons, saying, “You don’t normally call somebody who openly calls for your annihilation.”
Officials from the United States and its international partners have appeared to cautiously welcome the more constructive tone coming from Iran’s new president Hassan Rouhani and members of his administration regarding the nuclear issue. President Obama last month even spoke briefly by phone with Rouhani, the highest level contact between the two countries since the Iranian Islamic revolution in 1979. Meanwhile, however, Netanyahu hasn’t been shy about saying Iran’s new posture isn’t what it appears to be.
Netanyahu regularly refers to Rouhani as “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” and argues that Iran’s new tone and embrace of talks is just meant to buy time to enrich more uranium and move the country closer to building a nuclear weapon.
But when asked by France24’s Gallagher Fenwick whether he wanted to test his theories by talking directly to Rouhani, Netanyahu — who suggested recently that he might take a call from the new Iranian president — demurred:
FENWICK: If you were going to expose his (Rouhani’s) bluff, there would be one way, perhaps, a simple way, pick up your phone, dial his number. That would be one way of putting his openness, his readiness to real change dialogue to the test. Why haven’t you done that?
NETANYAHU: Maybe, I don’t think that’s an issue. You don’t normally call somebody who openly calls for your annihilation. You do have a simple proposition though that I would put forward. Look if they wanted to dismantle their program, their nuclear weapons program, they’d come out with it.
While some experts have said that granting Iran the right to a civilian nuclear program could end up being part of a final agreement, Netanyahu said that he would only accept a deal if the Iranians “dismantle everything.”
“Iran should dismantle completely its enrichment capabilities and its heavy water reactor because that is what produces nuclear weapons,” he said in the interview with France24.
In another seeming attempt to reach out to Western nations this week, Rouhani’s government cancelled an annual anti-Israel conference set to take place in Tehran. Rouhani’s predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, launched the conference in 2005, when he famously said that Israel should be “wiped off the map” and later suggested that the Holocaust was a “myth.” Rouhani and his top aides have been distancing themselves from Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric and the cancellation of his yearly anti-Israel conference is seemingly the latest step in the effort.
According the Associated Press, Iran’s Foreign Ministry scrapped the gathering because it was seen as undermining the government’s policy of “interaction with the outside world.”
But Rouhani’s recent rhetoric hasn’t entirely been pro-Israel, saying in an interview with NBC News last month that Israel “does injustice to the people of the region, and has brought instability to the region, with its warmongering policies.”
The ultimate test of whether Iran’s new public face has any substance, however, will take place next week when talks resume with the P5+1 (the U.S., U.K, France, China, Russia and Germany) in Geneva on Iran’s nuclear program.
“Words are not enough,” Germany’s Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said after a recent round of direct negotiations ahead of Geneva. “Actions and tangible results are what counts. The devil is in the details, so it is now important that we have substantial and serious negotiations very soon.”