Netanyahu to meet Obama, urge more pressure on Iran

Prime minister presents criteria for ‘really stopping’ Iranian nuclear program, ahead of his US trip

US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after a joint news conference, Wednesday, March 20, 2013, at the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem. (photo credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster)
US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after a joint news conference, Wednesday, March 20, 2013, at the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem. (photo credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to meet with US President Barack Obama in Washington DC 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.

“In a week and a half, I will go to the United Nations General Assembly, and before that I will meet with President Obama. I intend to focus on stopping Iranian nuclear program. Really stopping the nuclear program,” Netanyahu said at a cabinet meeting Tuesday.

The prime minister presented four criteria for doing so: “1. Halting all uranium enrichment; 2. Removing all enriched uranium; 3. Closing [the Fordo enrichment facility at] Qom; and 4. Stopping the plutonium track.”

Evidently responding to suggestions that the US might be willing to lift or reduce some sanctions on Iran in return for diplomatic progress, Netanyahu added: “Until it is genuinely stopped, the pressure on Iran must be stepped up, not eased or reduced.”

On Monday, the German news magazine Der Spiegel reported that Iran was willing to close its uranium enrichment facility at Fordo in return for an easing of Western sanctions.

Quoting an intelligence source, the magazine reported that Iran’s new president, Hasan Rouhani, might consider closing down the heavily fortified Fordo facility, near the holy city of Qom, and allow international observers to supervise the destruction of the centrifuges, if the West were to lift the sanctions regime it has placed on Iran’s oil industry and central bank. Rouhani could make the offer later this month at the United Nations General Assembly, the report said.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif is scheduled to meet the European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton next Sunday in New York and will explain to her Tehran’s plan in greater detail, according to Der Spiegel. Rouhani’s expected move could set in motion a process of negotiations that would culminate in the resumption of diplomatic relations between Iran and the United States, the magazine wrote.

A willingness to compromise on the part of the new Iranian president would likely stem from the catastrophic state of Iran’s economy. Citing intelligence sources, Der Spiegel’s Erich Follath wrote that Iran could only avert national bankruptcy if the sanctions imposed by the international community were lifted and new money flowed into the country.

White House Spokesman Jay Carney said Monday Obama had no current plans to meet with Rouhani during the General Assembly, where the schedules of the two leaders will overlap for a two-day period. The carefully worded statement did not fully rule out a last-minute or “chance” meeting.

“We currently have no plan for Obama to meet with his Iranian counterpart next week,” Carney said. The comments came a day after the president revealed that he had exchanged letters with the recently elected Rouhani, leading to speculation that the two leaders would meet at the UN.

Netanyahu and the president are expected to also discuss the ongoing Syrian civil war and chemical weapons crisis.

On Sunday, the prime minister met with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Jerusalem following the joint Russia-US deal announced Saturday regarding Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile.

In comments aimed at his hosts, Kerry said the deal, if successful, “will have set a marker for the standard of behavior with respect to Iran and with respect to North Korea and any rogue state, [or] group that tries to reach for these kind of weapons.”

Netanyahu thanked Kerry for his efforts to purge Syria of chemical weapons and linked the agreement with Syria to the ongoing campaign to curb Iran’s controversial nuclear program.

“We have been closely following – and support – your ongoing efforts to rid Syria of its chemical weapons,” Netanyahu said Sunday. “The Syrian regime must be stripped of all its chemical weapons, and that would make our entire region a lot safer.

“The world needs to ensure that radical regimes don’t have weapons of mass destruction because as we’ve learned once again in Syria, if rogue regimes have weapons of mass destruction, they will use them. The determination the international community shows regarding Syria will have a direct impact on the Syrian regime’s patron, Iran. Iran must understand the consequences of its continual defiance of the international community, by its pursuit toward nuclear weapons… if diplomacy has any chance to work, it must be coupled with a credible military threat.”

Raphael Ahren and Rebecca Shimoni Stoil contributed to this report.

read more: