Netanyahu heads to US, vows to tell ‘the truth’ about Iran

PM, before meeting with Obama and United Nations address, derides Rouhani’s gestures as ‘sweet talk and… smiles’

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday night flew out for a four-day visit to the United States, vowing to expose “the truth” in the wake of Iran’s recent overtures to the United States.

Israel is concerned over the thaw in Western-Iranian ties that has been developing at breathtaking pace in the last few days and culminated Friday with a phone call between the American and Iranian presidents.

“I am going there to represent the interests of the people of Israel, our readiness to defend ourselves and our hope for peace,” Netanyahu told reporters on the plane before taking off for the US. “I will say the truth. In the face of the sweet talk and the smiles one needs to tell the truth. Only the truth, today, is vital to the security of the world, and of course essential to the security of our country.”

On Monday, Netanyahu is scheduled to meet US President Barack Obama at the White House. A day later, he will be the final world leader to address this year’s United Nations General Assembly in New York.

The prime minister has said he regards Iran’s outreach as a “smokescreen” designed to “fool” the West while the regime advances toward a nuclear weapons capability. He has set out conditions that he wants the international community to maintain before any lessening of economic sanctions.

Netanyahu’s meeting with Obama will mark the first time the two leaders have sat together since the American president’s March visit to Israel, and, more dramatically, since the historic phone call between Obama and his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani — the latest in a series of developments last week that signaled a warming of ties between the new nations. The last time a sitting US president spoke to a sitting Iranian president was before the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

Netanyahu issued no direct comment on the Obama-Rouhani conversation and instructed his ministers to remain mum. He intends to discuss Israel’s position on the Iranian president’s charm offensive – which included more benevolent rhetoric on ties with the US and the West, a stated willingness to compromise on transparency of the Iranian nuclear program and an acknowledgement that the Holocaust occurred – during his meetings with senior US officials. He will also make a public plea against easing the sanctions on the regime during his speech Tuesday at the General Assembly.

“Netanyahu understands that there is a lot of euphoria,” according to an unnamed senior Israeli official quoted by The New York Times. “Netanyahu knows that people in the international community will want to believe. I think you’ll see in his remarks a lot of facts, a lot of facts that no one denies.”

Before his meeting with Obama, Netanyahu is scheduled to meet on Sunday afternoon with the foreign minister of Turkmenistan, Rashid Meredov, in New York. Israel’s diplomatic relations with Turkmenistan, a mostly Muslim country that borders Iran, date back to 1992, yet Shemi Tzur became Israel’s first resident ambassador in the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat, less than half a year ago.

Later on Sunday, Netanyahu is to meet with Canadian Foreign Minster John Baird. Canada has traditionally been one of Israel’s staunchest allies and strongest supporters on the international stage.

On Monday, Netanyahu, who is being accompanied by Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin, will fly to Washington for an 11:15 a.m. meeting with Obama. The meeting has tentatively been scheduled to last two hours and 15 minutes, and is expected to deal with the Syrian crisis and the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, in addition to the Iranian nuclear program and the West’s response to Rouhani’s outreach.

Later on Monday, Netanyahu is also to meet with Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry, before attending a farewell ceremony for outgoing Israeli ambassador to Washington Michael Oren on Capitol Hill.

On Tuesday, Netanyahu will be the last speaker to address the 68th General Assembly at the UN’s headquarter in New York. After his speech, he will meet with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. A meeting with American Jewish leaders is scheduled for Wednesday, before he returns to Israel.

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