Rouhani laughs off Israeli nuclear warnings

After Netanyahu says he ‘won’t wait until it’s too late,’ Iran’s president-elect asks, ‘Who are the Zionists to threaten us?’

Iran's president Hassan Rouhani at a press conference, in Tehran on June 17, 2013. (photo credit: Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)
Iran's president Hassan Rouhani at a press conference, in Tehran on June 17, 2013. (photo credit: Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)

Iranian president-elect Hasan Rouhani on Wednesday laughed off recent statements by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in which he pledged to do whatever was necessary to thwart Iran’s nuclear program.

On Sunday, Netanyahu told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that “if [Iran’s leaders] think that Israel will let them do it, they’re sorely mistaken.”

Netanyahu also made a similar comment to his cabinet, calling for a “credible military threat” against Iran, together with harsher sanctions.

On Wednesday, Rouhani addressed a group of veterans of the Iran-Iraq War. He told the group, “When some [the United States and Israel] say that all options are on the table and when a miserable regional country [Israel] says such things, it makes you laugh,” according to an AFP report.

“Who are the Zionists to threaten us?” said Rouhani, adding that Israel has not carried out threatened strikes on Iran due to fear of Iranian retaliation.

Rouhani, who will enter office in August, is seen by many as a relative moderate who may be more open to detente with the West.

However, on Tuesday he was quoted as saying Iran’s close ties with Syria and Hezbollah would remain unchanged.

The official IRNA news agency cited Rouhani as saying the Iranian-Syrian alliance would be able to confront “enemies in the region, especially the Zionist regime.”

According to the semi-official Fars News, Rouhani “lauded the Syrian nation for its resistance against Western plots” and said Syria would “overcome its current crisis.”

Rouhani also wrote to the Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, saying Iran backs the “steadfast nation” of Lebanon and the Palestinians, a reference to the Hamas terror group.

The notes reflect Rouhani’s intentions to emphasize links to Iran’s key regional allies even as he urges for greater outreach to the West.

Earlier Tuesday, Iran’s foreign ministry said that Israel’s prime minister seeks to damage relations between Iran and the world, referring to the Jewish state as “a warmonger regime.”

Netanyahu has urged the US and the West to up pressure on Tehran, despite the election of Rouhani. “There’s a new president in Iran,” he said. “He’s criticizing his predecessor for being a wolf in wolf’s clothing. His strategy is to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Smile and build a bomb.”

Rouhani, a former top nuclear negotiator for Iran, will be sworn in on August 3, replacing outgoing president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

On Wednesday, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said that Tehran would be ready to resume nuclear talks with world powers as soon as Rouhani puts together his negotiating team.

Salehi’s comments followed a meeting in Brussels with members of the P5+1 group that reopened talks with Iran last year.

EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the group — the five permanent UN Security Council nations plus Germany — sought to quickly resume negotiations, which have failed so far to make significant headway. No date has been proposed.

Lazar Berman contributed to this report.

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