JERUSALEM — Israel announced Monday that it would free another 26 Palestinian prisoners convicted of killing Israelis, saying it was fulfilling its commitment to U.S. diplomats as part of ongoing peace negotiations, despite intense opposition within Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet.
Netanyahu agreed months ago to free 104 Palestinian militants as part of a deal brokered by Secretary of State John F. Kerry to get the Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank, to the negotiating table. Many of the prisoners were serving life sentences for killings of Israeli civilians that took place in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
The Palestinians slated to be freed this week were all convicted of killing Israelis and have spent between 19 years and 28 years incarcerated in Israeli prisons. The majority are from the West Bank. Five are from the Gaza Strip, now governed by the Islamist group Hamas, which does not recognize Israel.
Among the prisoners to be freed is Omar Issa Masoud, convicted of murdering Ian Feinberg, a lawyer who had been working in Gaza to help improve the economic conditions of Palestinians. Feinberg, 30, was slain in April 1993, when gunmen stormed an aid meeting in Gaza City he was attending.
Another prisoner on the list is Hazem Kassem Shbair, convicted of murdering Holocaust survivor Isaac Rotenberg at a construction site where the two worked together. The Almagor Terror Victims Association in Israel said that most of Rotenberg’s family had been killed during World War II but that he managed to escape, arriving in Israel in 1947. Rotenberg was bludgeoned to death with an ax in 1994, when he was 67 years old.
Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the right-wing Jewish Home party and the third most powerful member of Netanyahu’s government, tried to stop the prisoner release, saying it was “a dubious privilege” to have Israeli negotiators sit with their Palestinian counterparts.
But Netanyahu said the government must abide by its commitments. “The decision to free prisoners is one of the most difficult I made as prime minister,” Netanyahu said, according to accounts in the Israeli media. “This decision was necessary in our current reality. We have to navigate through a complex international arena full of challenges.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is planning to welcome the freed prisoners in a celebration in Ramallah late Tuesday, officials said.
Critics of the release were given fresh ammunition after two missiles were fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel early Monday. No one claimed responsibility, and no one was injured. One missile was intercepted by Israel’s U.S.-funded Iron Dome missile defense system above the coastal city of Ashkelon. The other rocket landed in an uninhabited patch of ground nearby.
The Israeli air force retaliated with an attack against two clandestine rocket launchpads north of Gaza City.
Hard-line politicians opposed to the prisoner release — and to negotiations that would give away land for a future Palestinian state — said the rocket fire showed there was no trustworthy partner for peace on the Palestinian side.
On Sunday, two mortars were fired at Israel from inside Gaza. And earlier this month, Israel’s military shut down a “terror tunnel” that led from the Palestinian territory into the Jewish state.
Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a spokesman for the Israeli Defense Forces, said the tunnel was designed to facilitate attacks on Israel, such as the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier, the planting of explosive devices or the moving of militants across the border.
Israel’s decision to strike the concealed rocket-launch sites Monday “shows our capability and our knowledge,” Lerner said, and puts Hamas on notice of Israel’s intent to respond to any provocations with force.
Matthew Levitt, a scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and an expert on Hamas and Hezbollah, said Israel usually holds Hamas responsible for rockets fired from Gaza and described a retaliatory strike as “par for the course.”
Israeli aircraft pounded rocket-launch sites in response to rocket fire Aug. 14, Israeli officials said, and hit targets in Gaza on June 24, April 28 and April 3.
“The real question,” Levitt said, is why the rockets continue to be fired from Gaza, despite the relative calm in the area. He said the answer might be linked to Gaza’sincreasing isolation, following the ouster of the Islamist government of president Mohamed Morsi in neighboring Egypt.
Those moves denied Hamas its “tax revenues” from the tunnels, further battered the already weak Gazan economy and effectively sealed off the coastal enclave.
Ruth Eglash contributed to this report.
Friday, October 25, 2013
Iran could produce enough weapons-grade uranium to build a nuclear bomb in as little as a month, according to a new estimate by one of the USA's top nuclear experts.
Iran could produce enough weapons-grade uranium to build a nuclear bomb in as little as a month, according to a new estimate by one of the USA's top nuclear experts.
The new assessment comes as the White House invited Senate staffers to a briefing on negotiations with Iran as it is trying to persuade Congress not to go ahead with a bill to stiffen sanctions against Iran.
"Shortening breakout times have implications for any negotiation with Iran," stated the report by the Institute for Science and International Security. "An essential finding is that they are currently too short and shortening further."
David Albright, president of the institute and a former inspector for the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency, said the estimate means that Iran would have to eliminate more than half of its 19,000 centrifuges to extend the time it would take to build a bomb to six months.
The Obama administration has said Iran is probably a year away from having enough enriched uranium to make a bomb.
Bernadette Meehan, an NSC spokeswoman for President Obama's National Security Council, said the intelligence community maintains "a number of assessments" regarding potential time frames for Iran to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for one weapon or a testable nuclear device.hi
"We continue to closely monitor the Iranian nuclear program and its stockpile of enriched uranium," Meehan said.
World powers are seeking an agreement "that ultimately resolves all of the international community's concerns about Iran's nuclear program," she said. "The ultimate goal is a comprehensive agreement that is credible, transparent, and verifiable."
In the report, Albright said negotiations with Iran should focus on so-called "breakout" times, or the time required to convert low-enriched uranium to weapons-grade.
Albright, who has testified before Congress, said the negotiators should try to find ways to lengthen the breakout times and shorten the time that inspectors could detect breakout. ISIS' analysis is based on the latest Iranian and United Nations reports on Iran's centrifuge equipment for producing nuclear fuel and its nuclear fuel stockpiles.
Iran's stockpile of medium-enriched uranium has nearly doubled in a year's time and its number of centrifuges has expanded from 12,000 in 2012 to 19,000 today.
Sen. Mark Kirk, an Illinois Republican whose Senate Banking Committee is considering legislation to tighten Iran sanctions, said the report shows that Iran is expanding its nuclear capabilities under the cover of negotiations.
"The Senate should move forward immediately with a new round of sanctions to prevent Iran from acquiring an undetectable breakout capability," he said.
The White House has said new sanctions legislation should wait while current negotiations — scheduled to resume officially in Geneva next month — are moving forward.
The White House said Thursday it will continue consulting with Congress "so that any congressional action is aligned with our negotiating strategy as we move forward," said Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for President Obama's National Security Council.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has said his country has no interest in nuclear weapons but that producing nuclear fuel is Iran's right. His foreign minister, Javad Zarif, has said Iran will not ship its nuclear stockpile to a third country.
However, Iran has blocked international inspectors from some suspected nuclear facilities to verify they are being used for peaceful purposes, access required under international agreements it has signed.
United Nations inspectors have found evidence of a weapons program in violation of Iran's commitment under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The USA and the U.N. Security Council have implemented crippling economic sanctions on Iran to sway it to take steps to assure the world it is not developing a bomb.
Israel, which sees an Iranian nuclear bomb as a threat to its very existence, has said it will take military action to prevent Iran from getting a bomb.
ISIS estimated in October 2012 that Iran could produce enough highly-enriched uranium for a bomb within two to four months. The new estimate is based on an analysis of the latest reports by Iran and the the IAEA.
ISIS considered various scenarios, including if Iran decided to build a covert enrichment plant like it has under a mountain in Fordow, near the city of Qom, that was designed for optimal efficiency and minimal time to enrich enough uranium for bomb making. Such a facility built with current Iranian technology could produce enough material for a bomb in a week, according to the ISIS report.
"If they did that and they were caught it would be a smoking gun of a nuclear weapons program," Albright said.
If Iran moves ahead with installation of its more efficient, second generation centrifuges, it would be able to produce enough nuclear fuel for a bomb with so few of them, between 2,000 and 3,300 centrifuges, that they could fit in a small warehouse, Albright said.
Israel is expected to release a second group of 30 Palestinian prisoners on October 29 as part of ongoing peace efforts, Palestinian and Israeli sources told The Times of Israel Monday.
The batch will include more members of the group of 104 pre-Oslo Peace Accords inmates Israel has pledged to release, contingent on progress in the talks. Twenty-six prisoners were released in the first wave on August 13, just after talks started.
The most dangerous prisoners would be banished to the Gaza Strip, Yedioth Ahronoth reported. The government still has not approved the release, the paper said.
The Prime Minister’s Office declined to confirm the reports, but said a public notice would be sent out before any prisoner release and it would not be done in the dead of night.
Israel agreed in July to a four-stage release of 104 prisoners, many of whom were convicted of brutal murders, serving sentences for acts of terror committed before the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993.
The agreement was intended as a sign of good faith ahead of the renewed American-brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
The Palestinian Authority and the United States had asked Israel to release the prisoners in time for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha last week, but Israel denied that request, according to a report earlier in the month.
Netanyahu has resisted the pressure from the right and plans to release the prisoners on schedule, the prime minister’s representative in the peace talks, attorney Yitzhak Molcho, assured Palestinian and American officials in recent days.
Younis Obaidi drove tractor into an army base near Ramallah; his brother attempted to run down two policemen in 2009 attack.
Tractor from Palestinian attack on IDF base near Al-Ram, October 17, 2013 Photo: IDF Spokesman
A Palestinian terrorist was shot dead after trying to enter an IDF base in the West Bank by breaching the base's fence with a tractor, the army said on Thursday evening.
According to an initial report from the IDF, Younis Obaidi from Beit Hanina drove the tractor towards a base near Al-Ram, southeast of Ramallah, ramming the mechanical digger through a gate in the base's perimeter fence.
"A Palestinian ... posed an immediate life threat to soldiers nearby. They opened fire towards the suspect and reported a direct hit," an IDF spokeswoman said.
An IDF soldier was lightly injured by the tractor.
Obaidi's brother, Mir'i Radeideh, also attempted to carry out a terrorist attack with a tractor, in March 2009. Radeideh attempted to run over two policemen in a police car in Jerusalem in March 2009. He was also shot to death.
Obaidi arrived at the base and directed his vehicle towards the IDF soldier guarding its entrance, according to a Channel 2 report.
The guard entered into the base to ask if the tractor had authorization to enter.
At this point, Obaidi took advantage of the guard's absence and drove through the entrance barrier of the base and started driving quickly inside the base.
The guard began to chase the tractor and yelled for him to stop but Obaidi continued, recklessly hitting vehicles parked inside the base.
An officer joined the first soldier and the two fired at the tractor driver, seriously injuring him. Obaidi passed away from his wounds shortly thereafter.
The IDF was investigating the circumstances of the attack.
Reuters contributed to this report.
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
By Batsheva Sobelman
October 15, 2013, 3:34 a.m.
JERUSALEM — With talks between Iran and six world powers set to resume in Geneva on Tuesday, Israeli leaders issued a stern warning to the so-called P5 Plus One diplomatic group: don't ease pressure on Iran.
It would be a "historic mistake" to relax pressure on Iran "a moment before sanctions achieve their goal," Prime MinisterBenjamin Netanyahu told Israel's parliament Monday.
In a statement issued ahead of the talks Tuesday morning, Israel's security cabinet stressed that the opportunity for reaching a genuine diplomatic solution to dismantle Iran's military nuclear program could bear fruit only if the international community "does not relent" and continues pressure on Iran.
"We want the Geneva talks to succeed. We are not closing the door on diplomacy," Minister of Strategic and Intelligence Affairs Yuval Steinitz said Monday. Israel will endorse a "satisfactory agreement," he said.
Steinitz defined "satisfactory" as different from agreements previously reached with, and breached by, North Korea, which now has several nuclear weapons. He said North Korea is a cautionary example of the "impact and ramifications of bad agreements."
The minister pointed to an agreement with Libya, which gave up its enrichment program and effectively shut down its nuclear program a decade ago, as a good example.
If Iran wants civilian nuclear energy as it claims, it must stop enriching uranium and give up material enriched so far, Steinitz said.
The ministers said Iran could create a "win-win situation" if it gives up enrichment and obtains nuclear fuel from a third country.
Netanyahu contended that despite Iran's declared commitment to pursuing only civilian nuclear energy, it has been working for two decades to obtain nuclear weapons capabilities, systematically defying United Nations resolutions. While negotiating with the West, Iran has amassed several tons of enriched uranium in recent years, Netanyahu said.
Israel will embrace a "genuine diplomatic solution which would bring about the dismantling of Iran's nuclear weapons program," said Netanyahu. This will be possible, the prime minister said, if Iran complies with previous U.N. Security Council resolutions and other steps, including stopping all nuclear enrichment, removing stockpiled enriched uranium, dismantling facilities near Qom and Natanz and halting the plutonium track.
The West appears to have already made a concession to Iran, "a de-facto recognition of Iran's right to enrich uranium," said analyst Giora Eiland, Israel's former national security advisor.
An agreement that would keep Iran from military nuclear capability and would be "tolerable" to Israel is one that would remove low-grade enriched uranium from Iran to a third country that would convert it to fuel rods for Iran to use to produce electricity, Eiland said. Since reversing the fuel-rod conversion process is "difficult to impossible," such a move would hold Iran's military nuclear ambitions at bay, Eiland told media.
President Barack Obama's stance on Iran is "clear, unambiguous and uncompromising," and Israel should relate to it as such, President Shimon Peres told parliament on Monday.
But a recent public opinion poll, the monthly Peace Index conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute, showed that two-thirds of Israel's Jewish population doubts the U.S. will fulfill Obama's promise to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons at all costs and distrusts Iran and Western powers.
At the same time, however, a majority of Israelis, both Jews and Arabs, still believe it would be possible for Israel to live with a nuclear Iran and that Israel should formulate a security strategy that suits such a change in circumstances.
Prime Minister Netanyahu speaking at Bar Ilan, October 6, 2013.Photo: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO
There will be no peace with the Palestinians until they recognize the Jewish right to a homeland in Israel, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Sunday night at Bar-Ilan University.
“A necessary condition to getting a true solution [to the Israeli-Palestinian] conflict was and remains clear as the sun: ending the refusal to recognize the right of the Jews to a homeland of their own in the land of their fathers,” he said. “That is the most important key to solving the conflict.”
Netanyahu’s words came at the start of a conference marking 20 years since the founding of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, the site of Netanyahu’s famous “Bar-Ilan speech” from four years ago where he stated his willingness for a two-state solution.
Those who anticipated that he might use the same venue to again break new ground on the Palestinian issue were disappointed.
Rather then present a “vision” speech of where he thought the negotiations with the Palestinians were headed, Netanyahu used the opportunity to emphasize that a Palestinian recognition of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people was a necessary condition to any agreement.
Since the first Arab attack on a home housing Jewish immigrants in Jaffa in 1921, the root of the conflict has not been the “occupation,” the “territories” or the settlements, but rather an Arab refusal to recognize the Jews’ right to a sovereign state in their historic homeland, he said.
Netanyahu said that the Arab revolutions of the past two years – which he called the most significant events in the region in 20 years – have laid to rest the “sacred cow” that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the heart of the instability in the Middle East.
Today, he said, it is “tough to say this without sounding absurd.”
It is now also the time, he said, to kill the “sacred cow” that the “occupation” was the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Netanyahu spent a number of minutes during his address, which lasted some 30 minutes, discussing the links of the head of the Palestinian national movement in the pre-state days – Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini – with the Nazis. He reminded his listeners that the mufti visited Adolf Hitler in 1941 and promised his aid in getting Muslims to enlist in the SS in the Balkan states, and in the Nazi propaganda efforts.
Husseini, he said, is still an admired figure among Palestinians.
“That is what needs to be uprooted,” he said.
Netanyahu brought up the mufti, however, more to refute comments Iranian President Hassan Rouhani made in New York two weeks ago than to slam the current Palestinian leadership.
Netanyahu pointed out that Rouhani then quickly pointed out that it was forbidden to let the Zionists exploit the Nazi crimes to oppress the Palestinians.
“Despite what Iranian representatives and others say,” the prime minister said, “Zionist leaders did not use the Holocaust to destroy the Palestinian national movement.
The opposite is true. The leader of the Palestinian movement at that time, Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini, is the one who preached and worked to carry out the Holocaust to destroy the Zionist movement.
“And it almost worked,” Netanyahu said. “European Jewry was destroyed, with the help of the mufti, but Zionism was not destroyed; Israel was established.”
The goal of Iran today was to control the Middle East and beyond, and to “destroy the State of Israel. That is not speculation, that is the goal,” he said.
Repeating arguments he made last week at the UN, Netanyahu dismissed the notion that Iran was merely seeking nuclear energy for peaceful means, saying that countries that want to harness nuclear energy for civilian needs do not insist on enriching uranium and building plutonium reactors, elements not needed for civilian nuclear purposes but only to build nuclear weapons.
“The international community’s position toward Iran needs to be: We are willing to come to a diplomatic solution – but only one that will dismantle from Iran its capabilities to develop nuclear weapons. That means no centrifuges for enriching uranium and no plutonium reactor,” he said.
Earlier in the day, at the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu stressed he was not against diplomacy with Iran, but rather wanted to ensure that negotiations with Iran will lead it to a halt of uranium enrichment.
Netanyahu, in his first meeting with his cabinet since meeting US President Barack Obama in Washington and saying a day later at the UN General Assembly last week that Israel would “stand alone” against Iran if need be, said he had a long, in-depth conversation with Obama about Iran and that they agree on the need to halt the Islamic Republic’s uranium enrichment.
“Iran claims that it wants this capability for nuclear energy for peaceful needs,” he said. “Seventeen countries in the world produce nuclear energy for peaceful needs without one centrifuge or enriching uranium.”
Netanyahu, who only recently began publicly saying that the sanctions on Iran were making a serious dent, said that the sanctions were “working,” and were “just a moment before achieving their goal.”
Sanctions must not be removed before Iran dismantles its enrichment capabilities, he said.
Friday, October 4, 2013
by EYDER PERALTA
October 03, 2013 5:16
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday.
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 Edition. Click here for your NPR member station.
Aides say the meetings focused on coordinating Israeli and US policy aimed at preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons
Netanyahu arrives at the UN Photo: Reuters
WASHINGTON – Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spent over four hours in meetings with top Obama administration officials on Monday, including Vice President Joseph Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and special envoy to the Middle East peace process Martin Indyk.
US President Barack Obama participated in Netanyahu’s meeting with Biden.
As expected, aides said the meetings focused on coordinating Israeli and US policy aimed at preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, as well as on the ongoing crisis in Syria and negotiations with the Palestinians.
A senior State Department official said that Netanyahu’s bilateral meeting with Kerry focused “primarily on the ongoing final-status negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians and how the United States, in its facilitating role, can continue to help these talks succeed.”
Biden said his meeting with the prime minister and the president lasted for twoand- a-half hours at the White House.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the secretary conveyed that on Iran’s nuclear program, “no deal is better than a bad deal, and that’s what our bar will be.”
In a briefing with reporters, Psaki also said that Israel had been in “close contact” with the US over the arrest of Ali Mansouri, an alleged Iranian spy who was arrested casing the US embassy in Tel Aviv.
“I’m not going to characterize the timeline of when we did or didn’t, just that we knew about it before it was public,” Psaki said.
In the evening, Netanyahu met with Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Robert Menendez, who will be a pivotal voice in an upcoming debate over whether to tighten sanctions on Iran through the coming P5+1 negotiations.
Netanyahu is calling on the White House to continue its sanctions regimen despite a new diplomatic effort from the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, which has so far resulted in the first direct contact between the two nations’ leaders in over three decades.
OK, if it's Monday, it must be skunk-at-the-garden-party time.
There are two main reasons to doubt the possibility of an Iran-U.S. rapprochement, an idea that gained new life after Iran's charm offensive at the United Nations last week and a phone call between the presidents of the two countries on Sept. 27. The first is general to the Middle East, the second is specific to Iran.
Think about it: Every great, complicated effort meant to bring peace or democracy or tranquility to the Middle East somehow goes off the rails. The Israeli-Palestinian peace process? A 20-year failure. The remaking of Iraq? Also broadly a failure. The effort to bring about an end to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria? Failure. The entire Arab Spring? At the very least, a promise unfulfilled, and a bitter failure in many countries. The war to defeat Islamist terrorism? So far, a failure, despite intermittent tactical success.The general reason is easy to understand, and all-encompassing: Nothing at all works in the Middle East, so why should the U.S. find success convincing Iran to give up its nuclear program in exchange for lifting sanctions?
Since nothing works in a zero-sum region where politics is defined by fanatics, I don’t feel particularly optimistic about the current effort. I used to be more of an optimist, by the way, but this is what happens over time. It wouldn’t be surprising, by next spring, if we saw the White House acquiesce to congressional demands for harsher sanctions on the Iranian regime, after several rounds of mostly fruitless negotiations.
The second reason is specific to Iran's actions last week. Many people are forgetting that Hassan Rouhani, the president of Iran and the commander of Operation Offensive Charm, is a moderate only in comparison to his predecessor, the unhinged Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Rouhani has been a superior soldier for Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, a defender of the regime, and an anti-American propagandist for much of his professional life. (Not often mentioned during last week’s love-in was Rouhani’s post-Sept. 11 commentary, in which he blamed the attacks on the “wrongs and mistakes of American policies,” and argued that the U.S. Air Force shot down Flight 93, which crashed in the Pennsylvania countryside.)
There's no proof yet that Rouhani's ultimate goals for Iran are different than those of the hardliners. Let’s look at what he didn't do at the UN last week: He not only refused to comply with the many Security Council resolutions demanding that Iran cease all uranium-enrichment activities, he also refused to endorse the idea that Iran is obligated to pay any attention to the Security Council's wishes. (Remember, the many resolutions demanding that Iran cease enrichment passed with the unanimous approval of the five permanent members.)
Until proven otherwise, there's no reason to think that Rouhani, who is acting on Khamenei's behalf, is ready to shut down his country's nuclear program, despite airy statements to the contrary. The Iranian leadership wants to maintain its ability to produce nuclear weapons while at the same time convincing the West to lift sanctions. So far, Rouhani’s difference is one of style, not of substance.
Americans are easily charmed by smiling clerics, and Rouhani understands this. In 2007, he said, "We should talk carefully so as not to provoke the enemy, we should not give them any excuses."
Who is the enemy? The U.S. is the enemy. According to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy's Steven Ditto, Rouhani wrote in 2003: “The fundamental principle in Iran's relations with America -- our entire focus -- is national strength. Strength in politics, culture, economics, and defense -- especially in the field of advanced technology -- is the basis for the preservation and overall development of the System, and will force the enemy to surrender.”
Ditto, who has read much of Rouhani's voluminous output, says the quotation "encapsulates the overwhelming impression gleaned from Rouhani's history and writings: his identity as a revolutionary ideologue and defender of the Iranian `System.'" Ditto argues that Rouhani is simply a cleverer tactician than some of his colleagues. “What separates Rouhani from traditional ideologues, however -- and what fuels perceptions of him as a `reformist' -- is his belief that certain kinds of political and social reform can facilitate the defense, upkeep, and legitimization of the Iranian regime.”
In other words, a pleasant phone call with the president of his chief adversary -- and the prospect of extended negotiations -- are legitimate if they help advance the goals of the regime.
"In light of this background, there will be no moral, political, or intellectual meeting of minds between Rouhani and the West," Ditto writes. "In an unusually candid May campaign briefing with Iranian expatriates, he claimed that while he does not wish to see an `increase in tensions' with the United States, he has no desire to see a `decrease' in them either: `Today, we cannot say that we want to eliminate the tension between us and the United States... We should be aware that we can have interactions even with the enemy in such a manner that the grade of its enmity would be decreased, and secondly, its enmity would not be effective.'"
President Barack Obama seems somewhat enthusiastic about the possibility of real rapprochement with Iran. But Gary Samore, who was until recently Obama's chief adviser on Iranian nuclear issues, does not. When I spoke to him this morning, he was acerbic: "The Iranians are going to try to see how far they can get on charm alone."
That, for now, is the game.
(Jeffrey Goldberg is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)
President Hassan Rouhani of Iran told the United Nations on Thursday that “no nation should possess nuclear weapons,” and that Israel should join the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, as Iran did long ago, as part of a grander plan to create a zone free of nuclear weapons in the Middle East.
In a speech at a special United Nations conference on disarmamenton the sidelines of the annual General Assembly session, the new Iranian president sought to portray Iran as a peace-loving nation that has always opposed the militarization of nuclear power, despite suspicions by the United States, Israel and other countries that it is secretly moving toward being able to make nuclear weapons.
It was Mr. Rouhani’s second major speech this week at the United Nations, where he has been engaged in a near-breathless series of appearances and interviews with the Western news media. He appears to want to send the message that he is a reasonable, practical leader who differs from his bombastic predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and who wants urgently to solve Iran’s protracted disputes with the West, most notably the nuclear issue.
Israel, which regards Iran as an existential threat, has repeatedly warned that it may take military action to strike at Iran’s uranium enrichment centers and other nuclear facilities that the Israelis say are part of an Iranian scheme to build a weapon.
The Iranians have frequently pointed out that they have publicly renounced nuclear arms and that — unlike Israel — Iran is a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations nuclear monitor. The Iranians also have countered that Israel is believed to already have an arsenal of nuclear weapons, which it refuses to confirm or deny.
According to the Arms Control Association, a nonproliferation group in Washington,Israel is suspected of having 100 to 200 nuclear warheads. Israel has said it will “not be the first country to introduce nuclear weapons in the Middle East.”
Mr. Rouhani said in his speech on Thursday that the total elimination of nuclear weapons should be the goal, particularly in his part of the world.
“Almost four decades of international efforts to establish a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East have regrettably failed,” Mr. Rouhani said in a translated version of his speech, furnished by Iran’s United Nations Mission.
“Urgent practical steps toward the establishment of such a zone are necessary,” he said. “Israel, the only nonparty to the nonproliferation treaty in this region, should join thereto without any further delay. Accordingly, all nuclear activities in the region should be subject to the I.A.E.A. comprehensive safeguards.”
Mr. Rouhani said nothing about Iran’s own dispute with the I.A.E.A., which wants access to some restricted military sites in the country to verify that Iran’s nuclear intentions are benign. He also made no reference to Iran’s stalled negotiations with the so-called P5-plus-one countries, the permanent members of the Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — plus Germany, on the larger dispute over uranium enrichment.
He said in the speech that the establishment of a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East would “constitute a contribution to the objective of nuclear disarmament” and called for a conference to establish such a zone, “without any further delay, with the participation of all countries in the region to avoid unwanted consequences.”
Mr. Rouhani commended Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for convening the conference. “No nation should possess nuclear weapons; since there are no right hands for these wrong weapons, as you, Mr. Secretary General, have rightly put it,” he said.