Back from ‘charm defensive,’ PM stays on message

At Ben Gurion Airport, Netanyahu stresses the importance of sanctions as an obstacle to Iran’s nuclear capability

Arriving at Ben Gurion International Airport on Friday afternoon from his “charm defensive” in New York and DC, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stayed on message, stressing the importance of sanctions as an obstacle to Iranian nuclear capability.

“We are in the midst of a comprehensive international struggle against the Iranian nuclear program,” Netanyahu said in his brief but pointed remarks.

“Next week, I will meet with the leaders of European countries and will speak with other world leaders. I will stress to them the fact that the sanctions on Iran may achieve their desired effect, if they persist.” Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with the presidents of the Czech Republic and Greece in Israel this coming week.

“We can never be tempted by the Iranian scheme and ease sanctions, so long as the Iranians do not dismantle their military nuclear program,” the prime minister added.

Speaking with National Public Radio on Thursday, as part of a US media blitz coinciding with his address to the UN General Assembly, Netanyahu said he would consider meeting with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, and that he would question Rouhani regarding Iran’s nuclear program.

“I don’t care about the meeting. I don’t have a problem with the diplomatic process,” Netanyahu told NPR’s Steve Inskeep.

“I haven’t been offered. If I’m offered, I’d consider it, but it’s not an issue,” he clarified. “If I meet with these people I’d stick this question in their face: Are you prepared to dismantle your program completely? Because you can’t stay with the [nuclear] enrichment.”

He also called Rouhani, considered a relative moderate, the “least bad” candidate of those who were allowed to run in Iran’s June presidential elections.

In comments to CNN, asked whether he’d take a call from Rouhani, Netanyahu replied, “Why not?” and said he’d use such a conversation to say to the Iranian president: “You want the sanctions lifted? Stop the nuclear program.”

On Wednesday, Netanyahu told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell that the Iranian people were not governed by Rouhani, but rather by supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei, who “heads a cult.”

“These people, the Iranian people, the majority of them are actually pro-Western,” he stated, adding, “But they don’t have that. They’re governed not by Rouhani, they’re governed by Ayatollah Khamenei. He heads a cult. That cult is wild in its ambitions and its aggression.”

Netanyahu had extended his trip to the US by an extra day, with the aim of speaking to as many US media outlets as possible about the Iranian nuclear threat.

Joshua Davidovich and Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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