Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Sunday that world leaders should neither be fooled by the results of Friday’s election in Iran nor be encouraged to let up pressure regarding the country’s nuclear program.
Iranian President-elect Hasan Rowhani is being widely described as a “moderate,” a description Netanyahu took issue with in his first public reaction to the election.
At the beginning of the weekly meeting with his cabinet, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “Regarding the results of the elections in Iran, let us not delude ourselves. The international community must not become caught up in wishes and be tempted to relax the pressure on Iran to stop its nuclear program,” according to an official transcript.
“It must be remembered that the Iranian ruler, at the outset, disqualified candidates who did not fit his extremist outlook and from among those whose candidacies he allowed was elected the candidate who was seen as less identified with the regime, who still defines the state of Israel as ‘the great Zionist Satan,’” Netanyahu said.
Questioning just how much influence the position of president holds in the Islamic Republic, Netanyahu said, “In any case, the ruler of Iran is the supreme leader, not the president, and it is he who determines nuclear policy. The more the pressure on Iran increases, the greater is the chance of stopping the Iranian nuclear program, which remains the greatest threat to world peace.”
Netanyahu also referenced former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami who was widely viewed as a liberally-minded leader.
“Fifteen years ago, the election of another president, also considered a moderate by the West, led to no change in these aggressive policies. Over the last 20 years, the only thing that has led to a temporary freeze in the Iranian nuclear program was Iran’s concern over aggressive policy against it in 2003. Iran will be judged by its actions. If it continues to insist on developing its nuclear program, the answer needs to be very clear – stopping the nuclear program by any means,” Netanyahu said.
Rowhani is a strong supporter of Iran’s nuclear program. AFP quoted him as saying, “We will stand firm to get our nuclear rights recognized as we do for sanctions to be lifted. We need nuclear energy for the nation’s progress and my government will ensure this right is recognized at the lowest cost.”
The New York Times reported that Rowhani’s election “was not expected to represent a break with Iran’s nuclear policies,” because Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei “still holds ultimate power” over the nuclear program.
The Times also pointed to a speech from almost a decade ago in which Rowhani suggested that less pressure from the West could mean more quiet progress on centrifuge production. The Times reported [emphasis added]:
For all his reformist credentials, Mr. Rowhani backs the nuclear program, which Iran contends is for peaceful uses but which the West believes is aimed at producing atomic weapons. In a 2004 speech, not made public until years later, he boasted that even when Iran had suspended uranium enrichment, it was able to make its greatest nuclear advances because the pressure was off.
“While we were talking with the Europeans in Tehran, we were installing equipment in parts of the facility in Isfahan,” he said. “In fact, by creating a calm environment, we were able to complete the work in Isfahan,” a crucial Iranian nuclear facility.
Other senior Israeli politicians also voiced concern that Rowhani’s reputation as a moderate could end up lulling Western powers into complacency.
Israel’s Minister of Home Front Defense and Communications Gilad Erdan said according to the Times of Israel, “There might be a temptation… to agree to another round of talks, and then another round. Meanwhile the centrifuges are still spinning.”