Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told BBC Persian Thursday that if Tehran develops nuclear weapons, it will spell slavery for the Iranian people. The interview was one of several given in the wake of his United Nations General Assembly address.
"If the Iranian regime gets nukes, the Iranian people will never be freed from tyranny and will live in slavery forever," he said in his first interview to a Persian-language television channel, which broadcasts to around 12 million people every week, according to network figures.
The prime minister also addressed his audience briefly in Farsi. "We are not patsies," Netanyahu said in Farsi. Netanyahu also held up a book authored by Iranian President Hassan Rohani, which, he said, includes passages in which Rohani explains his policy of using deception against the West in order to further Iran's nuclear program.
On Thursday night, Rohani tweeted that "Tel Aviv upset & angry...because the Iranian nation's message of #peace is being heard better. #Iran #Dialogue."
Also on Thursday, Netanyahu told CBS that Iran was working on intercontinental ballistic missiles that could one day hit the United States. "They're not developing those ICBMs for us. They can reach us with what they have. It's for you," he told CBS News.
"The American intelligence knows as well as we do that Iran is developing ICBMs not to reach Israel. They want to reach well beyond," he said on the network's "This Morning" program.
The United States and other Western powers have shown an increased interest in engaging with Iran's new president, although Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday that Tehran must first prove it is willing to end the stand-off over its nuclear program.
The ICBM issue first emerged after a 2011 blast at an Iranian military base that Israeli officials said was linked to efforts to build a missile that could travel 10,000 km - far enough to reach the United States.
Israeli officials in early 2012 said that it would be two to three years before Iran would have such long-range missiles that could hit the United States.
One senior Israeli security official, asked about Netanyahu's comments Thursday, said the threat of Iranian ICBMs was still not imminent. "It will be a few years before Iran has ballistic missiles," said the official, who declined to be identified.
Netanyahu told CBS that he was not worried that his warnings may sound too strident given the ongoing efforts by the United States and others to negotiate with Iran. "The policy should be ... not to let Iran wiggle away with a partial deal in which they make cosmetic concessions," he said.
In another interview, Netanyahu also warned Iran's work on ICBMs was clearly aimed at delivering nuclear weapons.
"Those ... long-range ballistic missiles have only one purpose in the world. Their sole purpose is to arm them with a nuclear payload," he told NBC's Andrea Mitchell in an interview set to air later on Thursday.
No easing of sanctions
Meanwhile, a top U.S. official said Thursday that the Obama administration is looking for Iran to take specific steps to slow its uranium enrichment and to open a wider window into its nuclear program, ahead of October 15-16 negotiations with Tehran.
Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, the lead U.S. negotiator with Iran, also urged U.S. lawmakers to hold off on imposing additional sanctions against Iran ahead of the talks.
In testimony for Congress, Sherman held out the possibility of sanctions relief for Iran, but she made it clear the United States expected concrete actions from Tehran before this could happen and said all U.S. concerns about Iran's nuclear program must be addressed before the core sanctions could be removed.
"We will be looking for specific steps by Iran that address core issues, including but not limited to, the pace and scope of its enrichment program, the transparency of its overall nuclear program and (stockpiles) of enriched uranium," Sherman told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
"The Iranians in return will doubtless be seeking some relief from comprehensive international sanctions that are now in place," she added. "We have been clear that only concrete viable steps, and verifiable steps, can offer a path to sanctions relief."
Six major powers - Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States - will meet Iran's new negotiating team in Geneva on Oct. 15-16 to discuss its nuclear program.
The United States and its allies have imposed extensive sanctions against Iran, including a U.S. law that forced buyers of Iranian crude to sharply cut their purchases, because of Tehran's failure to address their concerns about the nuclear program.
At the hearing, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, a Democrat, said some U.S. lawmakers are moving forward on new U.S. sanctions to further cut Iranian petroleum sales, but held out the possibility of sanctions relief if Iran lives up to its UN Security Council obligations.
Those obligations include ceasing the enrichment of uranium, a process that can produce fuel for nuclear power plants or, if extended, fissile material for an atomic bomb.
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