Israel's Netanyahu Says He'd 'Consider' A Meeting With New Iranian Leader


Friday, October 4, 2013


October 03, 2013 5:16 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday.

Andrew Gombert/AP

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered some rare, if fleeting, hope Thursday in regard to his country's relationship with Iran.

In an interview with Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep, he said the election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani "might" offer an opportunity for diplomacy and that he would "consider" meeting him.

"I don't care about the meeting. I don't have a problem with the diplomatic process," Netanyahu said.

"You're saying you would meet him?" Steve asked.

"I haven't been offered. If I'm offered, I'd consider it, but it's not an issue. 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 [nuclear] enrichment."

Netanyahu went on to cast doubt on the new, more moderate rhetoric coming out of Tehran. He said the Iranian people picked the "least bad" of the candidates, but said that Rouhani was offering "a fake deal." He said he'd be "delighted" by a diplomatic solution that's "real." But then, slipping into American colloquialism, he let Steve know how he really feels about Iran's softer overtures: "This is all hogwash. What they say is nonsense."

Of course, Netanyahu's comments come after a whirlwind U.S. trip by Rouhani. He gave a speech at the U.N. in which he left all the caustic rhetoric of his predecessor behind and called for "prudent moderation." He said it was in Iran's best interest to be transparent with the international community to ensure confidence in its nuclear program.

As Rouhani headed to the airport, he received a historic phone call from President Obama. It was the first time the heads of state of the two countries have spoken directly since 1979, and it signaled just how serious talks between the U.S. and Iran have gotten. During his own speech at the U.N., President Obama said he had instructed Secretary of State John Kerry to pursue a deal with Iran over its nuclear ambitions.

Remember, relations between the U.S. and Iran have been strained over what the U.S., Israel and other Western countries say is Iran's march toward making a nuclear weapon. Iran has always maintained that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

In his interview with NPR, Netanyahu dismissed that argument, saying Iran does not need to enrich uranium if it wants to use it for nuclear energy and for medical devices.

"The reason they insist on enrichment is because they want to maintain the path to nuclear weapons," Netanyahu said.

That's when Steve told him that one question reasonable people ask when he travels around the Arab world is: If Israel can have nuclear weapons, why can't Iran?

"What is the reasonable answer to that question?" Steve asked.

"We'll I'm not going to say what Israel has or doesn't, but I will say Israel has no designs to destroy anyone; we've not called for the destruction of a people, the annihilation of Iran or any other country," Netanyahu said.

He added, "If we've learned anything from the history of the 20th century and not only from the 20th century, is that a regime with unbridled, radical ambitions should not get awesome power, because once they do, they will unleash it."

Much more of Steve's conversation with Netanyahu will air on Friday's Morning EditionClick here for your NPR member station.