NEW YORK—Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used his address at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on Tuesday to warn the international community against naiveté toward Iran, after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani went on a charm offensive in New York last week.
“[Former Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad was a wolf in wolf’s clothing,” Netanyahu said. “Rouhani is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a wolf who thinks he can pull the wool over the eyes of the international community. Like everyone else I wish we could believe Rouhani’s words. But we must focus on Iran’s actions.”
In reference to Iran’s nuclear program, Netanyahu said world leaders should “distrust, dismantle, and verify,” in a play on former U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s famous catchphrase.
Netanyahu’s speech seemed directed at U.S. President Barack Obama, who recently talked to Rouhani on the phone. It was the first conversation between the leaders of the United States and Iran since 1979 when the U.S.-backed shah was ousted. After the call, Obama said the United States must pursue “a unique opportunity to make progress with the new leadership in Tehran.”
Rouhani, when he was in New York last week for the UNGA, did rounds of interviews with American media and projected a warm, conciliatory tone. He appeared for a conversation at the Council on Foreign Relations, where the moderator asked him what books he was currently reading. He made promises about increased political freedoms in Iran. He also insisted his country has no plans to develop nuclear weapons, but rather was developing a peaceful nuclear energy program.
“I wish I could believe Rouhani, but I don’t,” Netanyahu said. “Because facts are stubborn things. Iran’s savage record flatly contradicts Rouhani’s soothing rhetoric.”
Netanyahu ticked off Iran’s support for terrorist groups and its killing of dissidents. He noted that peaceful nuclear energy programs aren’t built in secret underground bunkers. U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, in the room for the speech, kept a blank expression during his comments. Netanyahu met with Obama in Washington the day before his speech at the UN.
“You know why Rouhani thinks he can get away with this?” Netanyahu asked. “Because he’s gotten away with it before. The strategy of talking a lot and doing a little has worked in the past.”