'He doesn't count. He doesn't call the shots'

PM: Rowhani has no power to change nuclear policy

President-elect merely ‘putting on a more hospitable face’; Tehran continues to play for time, while inching toward the bomb, Netanyahu says

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)

The election of a relative moderate to the presidency in Iran shows the public’s discontent with the regime, yet is unlikely to curb its nuclear program, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an interview published Monday.

“He doesn’t count. He doesn’t call the shots,” Netanyahu said about Iranian president-elect Hasan Rowhani, suggesting Tehran is merely trying to buy time by “putting on a more hospitable face.”

The interview was published by Reuters.

Hailed by the West as a relative moderate and possibly willing to steer his country on a less belligerent course than his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Rowhani said Monday that Iran wants to continue enriching uranium but offered a “path of moderation” and “greater transparency” regarding its nuclear program.

But Netanyahu seemed unimpressed by Rowhani’s surprise upset, which was confirmed on Saturday. “The Iranian election clearly reflects deep disaffection of the Iranian people with its regime, but unfortunately it doesn’t have the power to change Iran’s nuclear ambitions, which are determined and guided not by the president but by the supreme ruler, Ayatollah Khamenei,” Netanyahu told Reuters. “He remains committed to pursuing the path of arming Iran with nuclear weapons and I am afraid the elections are unlikely to change that.”

Israeli politicians from the right of the political spectrum dismissed suggestions the new Iranian leader could soften the regime’s stance in the nuclear standoff with the West, saying he will be judged by his actions. MK Avigdor Liberman, for instance, said Rowhani is “not more moderate, but more sophisticated.”

The prime minister said that the international community’s sanctions against Iran were the reason for Rowhani’s victory, but are insufficient to convince the regime to change course on its nuclear program.

“These sanctions actually produced the change we have seen today. They did not work counterproductively. They produced some change in Iran, but they have not yet produced the change that we need to see,” Netanyahu told the news agency’s Jerusalem bureau chief Crispian Balmer. “So stay firm with the demands and firm with the sanctions.”

Last September, at a speech at the United Nations General Assembly, Netanyahu drew a red line for Tehran’s nuclear program, saying the Iranians would move on to the final stage of uranium enrichment by “next spring, at most by next summer.”

According to Reuters, Netanyahu said he would draw no further red lines but called on world powers to persuade Iran to halt all enrichment and remove already enriched uranium stockpiles.

“The red line has not changed. Neither has the Iranian pursuit of approaching it gradually, running out the clock, buying time, putting up a more hospitable face,” he said. “These are all tactics. Again and again and again.”

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