While avoiding any direct comment on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech at the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday, the White House expressed understanding of the Israeli leader’s doubts over Iran’s recent diplomatic overtures toward the West.
“We’ve said all along, as the president has said, we understand, and it is entirely justifiable, that Israel is skeptical about Iran and Iran’s intentions,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a press briefing hours after Netanyahu’s speech. “After all, this is a country [Iran] whose leadership, until recently, was pledging to annihilate Israel.”
Responding to questions about Netanyahu’s aggressive rhetoric during his speech, in which he denounced Iranian President Hasan Rouhani’s conciliatory statements as a ruse, Carney asserted that the US, like Israel, was unwavering in its determination to thwart a nuclear-armed Iran.
“We share with Israel and with Prime Minister Netanyahu the same goal and the same firm policy, which is [that] Iran cannot be allowed to have a nuclear weapon,” he said. “And yesterday’s meeting between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama represented just the latest in a series of meetings and conversations that the president has had — the two leaders have had — in which this issue has been a topic of conversation.”
In his UN address Netanyahu argued that Rouhani, whose outreach toward the West from behind the UN lectern a week earlier culminated in an unprecedented phone conversation with Obama last Friday, was deceiving the US in a manner that was in keeping with his past actions.
Carney said that although he hadn’t seen Netanyahu’s speech he empathized with Israel’s worries regarding Iran’s true intentions.
“As the president has said, it’s understandable why Israel has concerns about Iran’s nuclear weapons program,” he continued. “We share those concerns. And in Israel, obviously, the concerns are more intense because of the neighborhood they live in and because of the threats that previous leaders of Iran have made towards Israel.”
Carney stressed, however, that the US intends to give Iran time to prove that it really has altered its attitude regarding its controversial nuclear program. Iran’s atomic facilities will be the focus of discussions later this month in a meeting between Iran and the P5+1 group of nations comprising Britain, France, China, Russia, the United States and Germany
“We believe that the Iranian leadership has, very publicly — and everyone here has reported on it — changed their approach to resolving this issue with the international community,” he said. “We will not know if they’re serious about it until we test the proposition, until we see, through the P5+1 negotiations, how willing they are to reach an agreement with the international community in which they meet all their obligations, and demonstrate in a convincing, verifiable, transparent way that they are not pursuing a nuclear weapon.
“What we have said is that there is a window of opportunity to resolve this diplomatically,” he said. “Resolving it diplomatically is preferable, as a general matter… And as long as that window is open… we ought to pursue that. And that’s what the president is doing.”
Comprehensive sanctions have had “an obvious and serious effect on the Iranian economy,” Carney added. “And it is understandable why Iran would want relief from those sanctions… We’ve said all along that the important measuring stick when it comes to pursuing this diplomatic opening with Iran is action. Words here are meaningful, but actions are most meaningful.”