White House: Obama to toughen stance on Iran in UN speech, shun 'red lines'
As Netanyahu prepares to visit the U.S., some Jewish legislators accuse him of interfering in the upcoming election; recent public disputes between Obama and Netanyahu are ‘inappropriate,’ says one congressman.
In his address to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday evening, U.S. President Barack Obama will send a clear and more assertive message to Iran regarding its nuclear program, White House insiders told Haaretz. Obama will stop short, however, of giving Tehran an ultimatum, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been demanding.
A senior White House official said: "We have a red line: the president is determined to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. We have consistently framed that issue around Iran's profound failure to meet its international obligations with respect to its nuclear program. Therefore, [the General Assembly] presents another opportunity for him to underscore that Iran must not be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon." In an interview Sunday with CBS's "60 Minutes," Obama dismissed Netanyahu's calls for him to set "red lines" for Iran as "noise." The Prime Minister's Office refused to comment on the interview.
Obama said he understands and agrees with Netanyahu that Iran must not be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons and that nuclear capability in the hands of the Islamic Republic would not only threaten the security of the United States, but would likely spark a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. Obama added, however, that he would not be influenced by pressure on issues that impact American national security.
"When it comes to our national security decisions, any pressure that I feel is simply to do what's right for the American people," the president said. "And I am going to block out any noise that's out there."
Obama stressed that he remains committed to ensuring that his administration coordinates and consults with Jerusalem on the Iranian issue. "Israel is one of our closest allies in the region," he said, "and the Iranian regime has said some terrible things, which directly threaten its existence."
The president's comments come against the backdrop of increased tensions between Jerusalem and Washington and a growing sense in the White House and within the Democratic Party that Netanyahu is interfering in the U.S. presidential campaign in favor of Republic candidate Mitt Romney. Obama has come under fire from Republicans for not scheduling a meeting with Netanyahu during the latter's trip to New York.
Several Jewish congressmen and senators from Obama's party have also accused the Israeli prime minister of interfering in the presidential election. "'I don't think it's necessary for the president to rearrange his schedule," Rep. Henry Waxman, the top Democrat on the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, told The Hill newspaper. "I didn't think it was appropriate for the prime minister to publicly get into a dispute with the president of the United States, since we're both very closely working together to impose sanctions and to force Iran to stop its development of a nuclear weapon," said Waxman.
Netanyahu, meanwhile, will leave for New York shortly after the end of the Yom Kippur fast on Wednesday and address the General Assembly on Thursday evening (Israel time ). Ron Dermer, the prime minister's political adviser, is heading the team responsible for writing Netanyahu's speech, along with members of the National Security Council and Foreign Ministry officials. Netanyahu himself is also said to be closely involved in the phrasing of the address and is expected to see several drafts before approving a final version. According to one source in the Prime Minister's Office, the speech will deal with "Iran, Iran and more Iran."
Even before Netanyahu arrives in the United States, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will address the General Assembly. Since arriving in New York on Sunday, the Iranian leader has given several interviews, in which he attacked Israel and defended his country's right to pursue a nuclear program.
Israel has "no roots" in the history of the Middle East and represents a disturbance for Iran, Ahmadinejad said. He added that Iran has been around for thousands of years, but Israel has existed for only 60 or 70 years. He said that for a certain "historical phase" Israel represents a disturbance for Iran and "they are then eliminated."
"They (Israel ) have no roots there in history," Ahmadinejad told reporters. "They do not even enter the equation for Iran."
Ron Prosor, Israel's envoy to the United Nations, walked out of a gathering of the General Assembly yesterday during a speech by Ahmadinejad.
Speaking to reporters following his exit, Prosor, who left the session along with the Israeli delegation's legal advisor Adi Sheinman, told reporters that a "leader of a law-breaking nation that repeatedly violates the basic principles of the rule of law does not have a place in this hall. "It's an absolute disgrace that a person like him is allowed to express himself on such an important issue," said Prosor. "To allow Ahmadinejad to speak at the UN about the rule of law is like appointing a pyromaniac to be a fire chief."
Prosor, who was quick to leave the hall, did not hear any part of Ahmadinejad's address, during which the Iranian leader defended his country's nuclear program, saying it was meant for civilian use only.