The world must not be deceived by the moderate statements made by Iranian President Hasan Rouhani, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday night, in response to an NBC interview with Rouhani broadcast Wednesday.
In the interview, Rouhani said that his country has never sought and will never seek a nuclear bomb, that Iran does “not seek war with any country,” and that he has full authority to resolve the nuclear standoff with the West.
“The Iranians are continuing to deceive so that the centrifuges continue spinning. The real test lies in the Iranian regime’s actions, not words,” said Netanyahu in a statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office.
“While Rouhani sits down for interviews, he also continues to move ahead with the nuclear program,” he added.
“The Iranian regime’s goal is to reach a deal that would require it to give up an insignificant part of its nuclear program, while allowing it to … charge forward quickly toward acquiring a nuclear weapon whenever it chooses.”
In response to Rouhani’s vague answer to his interviewer about Holocaust denial, in which he said he was “not a historian, but a politician,” Netanyahu said that Rouhani, “like Ahmadinejad, was not prepared to recognize the existence of the Holocaust. You don’t have to be a historian to recognize the existence of the Holocaust; you have to be human.”
Earlier Thursday, Rouhani said in the second part of the NBC interview that Israel is a nation that “does injustice to the people of the Middle East and has brought instability to the region with its war-mongering policies.”
Netanyahu blasted the Iranian president for that comment, saying that “Iran sends its people to massacre innocent civilians in Syria and encourages terror around the world.”
Asked about criticism from Netanyahu of Iran’s policies and plans, Rouhani said he didn’t understand how an “occupier” nation could be in a position to lecture another country.
Rouhani said Israel “shouldn’t allow itself to give speeches about a democratically and freely elected government.”
He sidestepped a question about whether the Holocaust was real. And he said that his authority is genuine and lasting, even though Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is known to control all matters of state, including nuclear.
Asked by network correspondent Ann Curry about statements that predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made questioning the Holocaust, Rouhani said only, “I’m not a historian. I’m a politician. What is important for us is that the countries of the region and the people grow closer to each other and that they are able to prevent aggression and injustice.”
“What we wish for in this region is rule by the will of the people,” Rouhani said. “We believe in the ballot box. We do not seek war with any country. We seek peace and friendship among the nations of the region.”
In the wide-ranging question-and-answer session of which the first part was aired Wednesday night, Rouhani said that Iran has “never pursued or sought a nuclear bomb and we are not going to do so.”
It was a claim Iran has made before, that its nuclear activities are purely peaceful. However, the US and its allies suspect Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon, a feat some experts say the country might be able to accomplish as early as next year.
On Wednesday, the head of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission accused Iran of “deception and concealment,” warning the international community that the Islamic Republic was looking to buy time for its nuclear program.
Speaking at the annual meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Shaul Chorev said, “The picture that the Iranian representatives are portraying regarding openness and transparency of their nuclear program … stands in sharp contradiction with Iran’s actual actions and the facts on the ground.”
On Tuesday, Netanyahu announced that he would meet with US President Barack Obama in Washington, D.C. later this month, ahead of his scheduled address at the UN General Assembly in New York, and will urge a stepping up of pressure on Iran to abandon its nuclear drive.
“I intend to focus on stopping Iranian nuclear program. Really stopping the nuclear program,” Netanyahu said at a cabinet meeting Tuesday, adding his criteria for efforts to do so.
Rouhani spoke to the American television network just days before he is to make his first appearance as president on the world stage when he attends the United Nations General Assembly in New York. US officials will be watching next week’s visit closely for signs that Rouhani will warm relations with the West and take a more moderate line in the next negotiations on Iran’s disputed nuclear program.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday there were no current plans for Obama to meet Rouhani at the UN General Assembly. But he did not rule out a meeting, saying, “We remain ready to engage with the Rouhani government on the basis of mutual respect to achieve a peaceful resolution to the nuclear issue.”
Rouhani also addressed a question that many in the US have been asking: Does he really have the power to make major decisions and concessions on the nuclear issue?
“In its nuclear program, this government enters with full power and has complete authority,” he said. “We have sufficient political latitude to solve this problem.”
Rouhani is considered a relative moderate in Iran’s hard-line clerical regime. He campaigned on a promise to seek relief from punishing US and Western sanctions that have slashed Iran’s vital oil exports by more than half in the past two years, sent inflation soaring and severely undercut the value of its currency.
On Tuesday, Ayatollah Khamenei said Iran was not opposed to dialogue with the West concerning its nuclear program, did not seek the bomb, and would show flexibility in negotiations.
“I am not opposed to correct diplomacy,” Khamenei said. “I believe in what was named many years ago as ‘heroic flexibility.’”
Khamenei’s comments came a day after German news magazine Der Spiegel reported that Rouhani was prepared to shut down Iran’s uranium enrichment facility at Fordo in exchange for eased Western sanctions. The report was later denied by Iran’s nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi.