EDITH M. LEDERER, Associated Press
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu played the spoiler Tuesday to any easing of Iran's relations with the West, telling world leaders his country will do whatever it takes to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons, even if it has to stand alone.
Speaking at the U.N. General Assembly, Netanyahu asserted that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani must have known about a terror attack on a Buenos Aires Jewish community center in 1994, as well as the 1996 bombing in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 Americans, because he was national security adviser at the time.
Last week, President Barack Obama and the Iranian leader spoke on the phone, the highest level contacts between their countries in 34 years.
Netanyahu said Israel's future is threatened by a "nuclear-armed" Iran seeking its destruction and urged the international community to keep up pressure through sanctions.
"Israel will not allow Iran to get nuclear weapons," he said. "If Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel will stand alone, but in standing alone Israel will know that we will be defending many, many others," Netanyahu added.
An Iranian diplomat, Khodadad Seifi, shot back: "Unlike Israel, Iran would not and did not attack any country."
"It is not due to its inability, but due to its principled policy in rejecting any use of force," Seifi, a deputy ambassador to Iran's U.N. mission, told the assembly. "Therefore the Israeli prime minister had better not even think about attacking Iran let alone planning for that."
At the White House, press secretary Jay Carney said Netanyahu's skepticism about Iran and its intentions is "entirely justifiable" because until recently Iran's leadership "was pledging to annihilate Israel." He said the U.S. share's Israel's goal of keeping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Carney stressed that Obama will be "very firm" on demanding verifiable, transparent action to ensure that Iran has given up its nuclear weapons ambitions.
Netanyahu said a nuclear-armed Iran would have a choke-hold on the world's main energy supplies.
"It would trigger nuclear proliferation throughout the Middle East, turning the most unstable part of the planet into a nuclear tinderbox. And for the first time in history, it would make the specter of nuclear terrorism a clear and present danger," the Israeli leader said.
Netanyahu said the greater the pressure, the greater the chance for diplomacy to succeed. He said the only diplomatic solution that would work is one that requires Iran to completely dismantle its nuclear weapons program and prevents it from starting one in the future.
This would require a halt to all uranium enrichment, removing uranium stockpiles from Iran, dismantling the infrastructure for "nuclear breakout capability" — reaching the point where the country can make a quick dash to a nuclear weapon.
He also said it would require stopping all work at a heavy water reactor aimed at producing plutonium, which like uranium can be used to produce nuclear weapons.
Netanyahu called Rouhani "a loyal servant of the regime" and stressed that he has done nothing to stop Iran's nuclear program since his election in June.
Rouhani was at the U.N. last week and presented a more moderate face of the hard-line clerical regime in Tehran.
He agreed to the first nuclear talks with six world powers since April, held on the sidelines of the General Assembly last week. U.S. and European diplomats emerged from the talks saying they saw a marked shift in Iran's tone for the better. But they also insisted it must be backed up by concrete actions to assure the world Tehran is not seeking to develop a nuclear weapon.
The parties agreed to meet again in Geneva on Oct. 15-16 for more substantive negotiations.
Iran insists its nuclear activities are for peaceful purposes only and that it does not seek a weapon.
Netanyahu asserted that Rouhani must have known about the murder of 85 people in a 1994 terror attack on the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires and the killing of 19 American soldiers in Saudi Arabia in 1996 because he was head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council from 1989-2003.
The U.S. has also accused Iran of sponsoring acts of terrorism around the world throughout the 1990s, blaming Iran and its proxy Hezbollah for a 1992 attack on the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires that killed 29 people, as well as the community center attack two years later. Some analysts linked Iran's Quds Force to helping direct the 1996 bombings of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 American military personnel.
Netanyahu said Rouhani condemned the "violent scourge" of terrorism. "Yet in the last three years alone, Iran has ordered, planned or perpetrated terrorist attacks in 25 countries on five continents," he charged, without providing any evidence to back up the accusation.
Netanyahu said Rouhani launched a "charm offensive" because tough sanctions from the U.N., the U.S. and many others "have taken a big bite off the Iranian economy" and the regime is under intense pressure from the Iranian people to get the sanctions lifted.
He also accused the Iranian president of masterminding his country's strategy to advance the nuclear weapons program and said his goal was the same as his hard-line predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
"Ahmadinejad was a wolf in wolf's clothing. Rouhani is a wolf in sheep's clothing, a wolf who thinks he can pull the wool over the eyes of the international community," Netanyahu said.
He said all Iranian presidents serve the same "unforgiving regime" where the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is a dictator and the real power.
Netanyahu also accused Iran of lamenting the human tragedy in Syria, while at the same time directly participating in President Bashar Assad's murder and massacre of tens of thousands of innocent men, women and children. He said Iran's regime is propping up the Syrian regime that just used chemical weapons against its own people.
Netanyahu took apart Rouhani's speech to the General Assembly last week, saying he wished he could believe the Iranian president's words "but we must focus on Iran's actions — and it's the brazen contrast, this extraordinary contradiction between Rouhani's words and Iran's actions that is so startling."
Netanyahu said Iran has not crossed the "red line" that he set at last year's General Assembly, but claimed Rouhani has done nothing to stop the country's uranium enrichment program or its development of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) "whose sole purpose is to deliver nuclear warheads."
"And Iran is building now ICBMs that the United States says could reach this city (New York) in three or four years," Netanyahu said.
He said Rouhani denounced attempts to change the regional balance in the Middle East through proxies."Yet Iran is actively destabilizing Lebanon, Yemen, Bahrain and many other Middle Eastern countries," Netanyahu said.
He cited an attempt by Iranian agents to assassinate Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States in Washington two years ago, and the arrest of an Iranian agent three weeks ago trying to collect information "for possible attacks against the American Embassy in Tel Aviv."
Israel's Shin Bet security agency says Iran recruited the Belgian-Iranian national Ali Mansouri last year and sent him to Israel to spy. He was arrested on Sept. 11 at Israel's international airport.
A lawyer for Mansouri said the allegations are baseless.
Israel announced the arrest on Sunday as Netanyahu left for the U.S. for talks on Iran. Israeli media have speculated that the timing of the announcement was politically motivated.
"I wish I could believe Rouhani, but I don't because facts are stubborn things," Netanyahu said, "and the facts are that Iran's savage record flatly contradicts Rouhani's soothing rhetoric."