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MIDDLE EAST

Netanyahu heads to UN to discuss Iran

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 September, 2012, 10:55am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 September, 2012, 11:01am

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will on Thursday arrive at the UN General Assembly in New York to talk about the threat posed by a nuclear Iran in the hope of gaining support for more sanctions.

But no less important will be the opportunity for Netanyahu to show the world that despite the recent tension with Washington over his demand that they present Iran with “red lines,” the two allies are equally determined to prevent Tehran going nuclear.

“I will reiterate that the most dangerous country in the world must not be allowed to arm itself with the most dangerous weapon in the world,” he said on Sunday, referring to his UN trip.

Since taking office in 2009, Netanyahu has consistently placed the “Iranian threat” at the forefront of his foreign policy, repeatedly warning about Tehran’s civilian nuclear programme, which Israel and much of the West believe could lead to weapons capability.

The outspoken Netanyahu, leader of the Middle East’s sole, albeit undeclared nuclear power, has refused to rule out a strike to prevent Iran from developing such a capability, and in recent weeks has demanded that Washington set unambiguous “red lines” for Tehran.

But the administration of US President Barack Obama has flatly refused to do so, with top officials shrugging it off as political grandstanding while stressing their commitment to preventing Iran developing a bomb.

And tensions were further exacerbated after Obama declined an Israeli request to meet Netanyahu during the visit, citing a tight schedule.

Despite the spat, Netanyahu is likely to look at his UN address as an opportunity to highlight the unity between Israel and its most powerful ally on the Iranian issue, said Zalman Shoval, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States.

Netanyahu, he said, will again make the Israeli case on Iran and stress that despite their differences, the two administrations “are fundamentally in agreement, not only on the danger of Iran, but also in their determination not to let Iran reach a bomb.”

The Israeli leader will be using the UN as “a platform, with the entire world observing and listening – especially the United States,” he said, explaining that the difference between them was “not an argument over the fundamentals, but over details.”

He also shrugged off the fact the two men won’t meet, saying it would have been “mainly symbolic, since talks on Iran are held on a daily basis.”

During the three-day visit, Netanyahu will meet US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, an Israeli official expressed hope that Netanyahu’s UN address would succeed in piling further pressure on Iran.

“We’d like to come out of it with greater international resolve and determination to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear weapons,” he told AFP.

Senior cabinet minister Dan Meridor said it would be enough if Netanyahu managed to clearly lay out Israel’s stance on the central issues.

“If Netanyahu succeeds in presenting the Israeli positions on main issues clearly -- something he is capable of doing -- that would be a success,” said Meridor, who is also the intelligence minister.

Despite a punishing regime of international sanctions targeting Iranian oil exports and its banking sector, Israel has urged even tougher action, saying that so far, the sanctions have not forced a change in Tehran’s policy.

Earlier this month, Netanyahu told two US television networks that within around six months, Iran would be “90 per cent of the way” towards having enough enriched uranium for an atom bomb.

Eytan Gilboa, an expert on US-Israeli relations at Bar Ilan University, agreed that Israel would push for further sanctions, saying there was still a variety of painful measures that could be imposed on Iran, such as targeting their national carrier, Iran Air.

He also suggested that instead of Netanyahu getting US assurances it would attack if Iran makes the dash for a bomb, Israel could instead receive the weapons needed to enable an effective strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Beyond that, Netanyahu’s speech was likely to seek to “justify military action, in the event it happens,” he said.

The Israeli leader was also likely to try and distance himself from the upcoming US presidential election following allegations that his thinly-veiled criticism of Obama’s Iran policy was tantamount to meddling in the vote, Gilboa said.

“He needs to say: I can’t be responsible for what candidates do,” said Gilboa, noting it may prove difficult for Netanyahu to detach himself from his long-term friend and Republican contender Mitt Romney.

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