GWEN IFILL: Last week at the United Nations, Iran’s new president made waves by mounting a charm offensive directed at the White House. But, today, Israel pushed back.
Margaret Warner reports.
MARGARET WARNER: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took the stage at the U.N. General Assembly and issued one of his strongest denunciations yet against Iran and its nuclear efforts.
PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, Israel: Israel will never acquiesce to nuclear arms in the hands of a rogue regime that repeatedly promises to wipe us off the map. Against such a threat, Israel will have no choice but to defend itself.
I want there to be no confusion on this point. Israel will not allow Iran to get nuclear weapons. If Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel will stand alone.
MARGARET WARNER: Netanyahu bluntly dismissed recent overtures by Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, which culminated in a 15-minute phone call with President Obama last Friday. In fact, he insisted, Rouhani represents no real change from his hard-line predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: When it comes to Iran’s nuclear weapons program, the only difference between them is this: Ahmadinejad was a wolf in wolf’s clothing. Rouhani is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I wish I could believe Rouhani, but I don’t, because facts are stubborn things. And the facts are that Iran’s savage record flatly contradicts Rouhani’s soothing rhetoric.
MARGARET WARNER: And so, the prime minister warned, the world must maintain unrelenting sanctions coupled with a military threat.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: If you want to knock out Iran’s nuclear weapons program peacefully, don’t let up the pressure. Keep it up. We all want to give diplomacy with Iran a chance to succeed. But, when it comes to Iran, the greater the pressure, the greater the chance.
MARGARET WARNER: It was the same message, but more strongly worded, that Netanyahu brought to his meeting at the White House yesterday. And President Obama agreed that , as negotiations begin, Iran’s actions are what matters to the U.S.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Given the statements and actions from the Iranian regime in the past, the threats against Israel, the acts against Israel, it is absolutely clear that words are not sufficient.
MARGARET WARNER: Even before Netanyahu’s speech today, Iran fired back with broadsides of its own. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who’s in New York for the U.N. session, flatly accused the Israeli leader of lying. He spoke to Iranian state television.
MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF, Iranian Foreign Minister (through interpreter): This is in his nature to lie, a country or regime that over the past 22 years has been saying Iran will have nuclear arms in six months. The continuation of this game, in fact, is based on lying, deception, incitement and harassment.
MARGARET WARNER: After today’s speech, an Iranian official rejected Israel’s argument that Iran is pursing nuclear weapons and denounced Netanyahu for saber-rattling.
What really upsets Iranian officials, however, are not Netanyahu’s diatribes, but the comments President Obama made when they met yesterday, when even after his promising phone call with President Rouhani, he again referred to the Iranian government as a regime and said military force remains an option.
Foreign Minister Zarif, who will lead Iran’s negotiating team, tweeted last night that he found the President Obama’s remarks to be macho and disrespectful.
In Washington today, State Department spokesman Jen Psaki said the president is fully committed to exploring the talks.
JEN PSAKI, State Department: The president made clear just yesterday that we would keep options on the table, but certainly we have an obligation and an opportunity to see if there is a path forward, and that’s what we’re pursuing now.
MARGARET WARNER: What sort of path there is will become clearer when nuclear talks resume in two weeks in Geneva with Zarif, the U.S. and five other world powers.