WASHINGTON (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told U.S. media he would not initiate contact with the new Iranian president, but would not turn down an overture out of hand.
“Yeah, we’re not the first to call,” Netanyahu told Piers Morgan, a CNN host who asked him in an interview broadcast Thursday if he would take a call from Hassan Rouhani.
Separately, Netanyahu told NPR in an interview broadcast Thursday that he would consider an offer to engage directly with Rouhani, but also suggested such engagement was beside the point. More urgent was the need to get Iran to suspend its suspected nuclear weapons program, he said.
“If I’m offered, I’d consider it, but it’s not an issue,” he told NPR. “If I meet with these people I’d stick this question in their face: Are you prepared to dismantle your program completely? Because you can’t stay with the enrichment.”
Israel opposes any resolution to tensions with Iran that would allow it to continue enriching uranium at any level. The United States and other Western powers reportedly are ready to allow Iran to continue to enrich at levels well below those needed for weaponization.
Netanyahu this week took his concerns about engagement to the United Nations, President Obama and the U.S. Congress.
Rouhani, who insists Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful, spoke with President Obama by phone last week, the highest level engagement between the United States and Iran since the 1979 revolution.
Returning Friday to Israel, Netanyahu said he would continue to make an issue of Iran’s supposed nuclear weapons program.
“We are engaged in a comprehensive international struggle against the Iranian nuclear program,” he said.
“Next week I will meet with leaders of European countries and I will speak with other world leaders,” Netanyahu said. “I will emphasize the fact that the sanctions on Iran can achieve the desired result if they are continued. The world must not be tempted by the Iranian stratagem into easing sanctions as long as the Iranians do not dismantle their military nuclear program.”
Wendy Sherman, the third-ranking official at the State Department, told a Senate committee Thursday that the “fundamental large sanctions” that have crippled Iran’s economy would “not disappear any time soon,” even with the launch of formal negotiations.
She asked Congress, however, not to initiate any new sanctions before a meeting between Iran and world powers later this month.