Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Thursday cast the world’s attention away from his country’s unsanctioned nuclear program and called on Israel — which he cited by name — to join the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and put its suspected nukes under international control.
Speaking at a UN General Assembly meeting on nuclear disarmament, Rouhani said, “Almost four decades of international efforts to establish a nuclear weapon-free zone in the Middle East have regrettably failed.”
“No nation should possess nuclear weapons,” he said, adding “As long as nuclear weapons exist, the risk of their use, threat of use and proliferation persist. The only absolute guarantee is their total elimination.”
Rouhani urged Israel to become a signatory to the treaty which attempts to rein in the production and proliferation of nuclear weapons.
“Israel, the only non-party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty in this region, should join thereto without any further delay,” Rouhani said.
A spokeswoman for the Israeli mission at the UN did not have an immediate comment, as the mission was closed for the Sukkot holiday.
Iran is a signatory to the treaty but neither Pakistan, nor India or Israel are. Pakistan, Iran’s neighbor, first tested nuclear weapons in 1998, weeks after India detonated its first nuclear bomb.
Israel has never officially acknowledged that it possesses nuclear weapons, maintaining a policy of so-called nuclear ambiguity, but a recent report indicated that the Jewish state has an estimated 80 warheads.
In response to Rouhani’s statement, Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz, who is heading Israel’s UN delegation to the General Assembly, remarked that the Iranian president was trying “to smile his way to the bomb.”
“The man is an expert with tricks,” he told AFP. “Instead of saying that Iran will finally comply with the Security Council resolutions, it tries to shift attention to Israel.”
The Iranian president’s statements came hours before his foreign minister was set to meet with world powers at the United Nations to discuss Tehran’s unsanctioned nuclear program, which Israel and the West suspect is for the production of nuclear weapons. Iran contends that its uranium enrichment program, which Rouhani said Tuesday had reached “industrial scale,” is intended for peaceful purposes.
According to AFP, Rouhani said he believed Tehran and the international community could reach a deal about Iran’s controversial nuclear program within three to six months.
On Tuesday, when Rouhani addressed the General Assembly, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned: “Iran thinks that soothing words and token actions will enable it to continue on its path to the bomb… Like North Korea before it, Iran will try to remove sanctions by offering cosmetic concessions, while preserving its ability to rapidly build a nuclear weapon at a time of its choosing.”
Referring to President Barack Obama’s stated readiness that day to “test” the diplomatic route to resolving the nuclear standoff with Iran, Netanyahu stressed: “Israel would welcome a genuine diplomatic solution that truly dismantles Iran’s capacity to develop nuclear weapons. But we will not be fooled by half-measures that merely provide a smokescreen for Iran’s continual pursuit of nuclear weapons. And the world should not be fooled either.”