WASHINGTON — In a pointed rebuttal to President Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Iran can be forced to shed its nuclear program and urged the imposition of new economic sanctions.
One day after President Obama argued that Iran can’t be compelled to give up its entire nuclear infrastructure, Netanyahu insisted that military threats and economic penalties can compel Tehran to surrender what it views as a national treasure.
“We shouldn’t assume that more and tougher sanctions won’t lead to a better deal,” Netanyahu said in an address by satellite link to the Brookings Institution’s annual Saban Forum, a Mideast policy conference organized by Los Angeles businessman and Democratic fundraiser Haim Saban.
Netanyahu called for an intensification of economic penalties on Iran and a halt to the easing of pressure on the Islamic Republic that he said has followed a preliminary international deal to curb its nuclear program. “Steps must be taken to prevent further erosion of sanctions,” he said.
Obama appeared before the same group Saturday and said that it is unrealistic to expect foreign pressure will force Iran to give up its entire program. He argued that, instead, world powers should accept a “modest” Iranian civil program, and seek in upcoming negotiations to impose intrusive monitoring to ensure the program doesn’t give Iran bomb-making capability.
Netanyahu’s comments appeared aimed in part at urging Congress to quickly add new penalties, despite White House pressure to delay such action. Obama has been arguing that additional sanctions — even if they don’t take effect for six months — would threaten upcoming negotiations over a longer-term deal to restrain Iran’s nuclear program.
The conflict between Netanyahu and Obama has sharpened in the past two weeks after six world powers reached a preliminary deal on the disputed Iranian program. The deal gave Iran limited relief from sanctions in return for limited curbs on its nuclear program, with the aim of opening the way for six months of negotiations to forge a deal setting longer-term curbs.
Netanyahu signaled that he wants far more ambitious goals for the upcoming negotiations than Obama.
While the president wants to limit the negotiations to the nuclear issue, Netanyahu argued that the world powers should also require an end to Iran’s ballistic missile program, its domestic human rights abuses and its “genocidal” efforts against Israel.
What is required is “a demand to change its genocidal policy,” he said.
He contended that the recent deal has already begun unraveling the sanctions program, quoting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani saying that the economy of Iran has already “markedly improved.”
Netanyahu appeared to be warning again that he may order an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, saying: “I will do what it takes to protect the Jewish state and the future of the Jewish people.”
He also took aim at the Obama administration’s view that the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been a source of strife in the Middle East. Recent turmoil in the region, including the Syrian civil war, has shown otherwise, he said. “Reality has finally debunked that myth,” Netanyahu said.
The prime minister also appeared to reject recent proposals by Secretary of State John F. Kerry aimed at guaranteeing Israeli security in a peace deal while minimizing the Israeli security presence in a new Palestinian state. Kerry disclosed this week during a trip to the region, without providing details, that he had offered Netanyahu American “ideas” on security arrangement.
Netanyahu said “there is no substitute” for Israeli forces.
The Israeli prime minister’s continuing frictions with the White House have caused uneasiness among some in Israel and in the American Jewish community. And while he took on Obama’s approach to Iran, Netanyahu also sought to soften his words, emphasizing the way the two governments get along.
He hailed the administration’s growing security and intelligence assistance to Israel, and the tireless efforts of Kerry, who has visited the region several times each month trying to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.