Official: Netanyahu to Urge Obama Not to Lift Sanctions on Iran

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WASHINGTON – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is to meet today with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House, is expected to ask at the meeting that international sanctions on Iran not be lifted.

A senior Israeli official, who is familiar with the details of preparations for the meeting, said that while previous meetings between Netanyahu and Obama discussed a military option against Iran’s nuclear facilities, this time, with the diplomatic track gaining momentum, the conversation will focus on keeping up the pressure on the Iranian regime.

Netanyahu believes that the Western powers should leave in place the international sanctions, especially the European Union’s oil embargo and the sanctions on Iranian banks, which have devastated the Iranian economy. Netanyahu is expected to tell Obama that until Iran meets all the conditions – a halt to uranium enrichment, removal of all the enriched material from the country, closure of the reactor at Fordo and stoppage of work at the heavy water reactor in Arak – the sanctions should not be lifted and should even be intensified.

Before departing Israel, Netanyahu said he would present the truth to the United Nations amid a torrent of sweet-talking.

“I will present our rights as a nation, our determination to defend ourselves and our hopes for peace. I will speak the truth. Facts must be stated in the face of the sweet talk and the blitz of smiles,”he said.

Meanwhile, Iran’s foreign minister said on Sunday that the “Holocaust is not a myth,” and that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei “rejects and condemns the killing of innocent people.”

Appearing on ABC’s “This Week,” Javad Zarif was asked by host George Stephanopoulos about a statement appearing on Khamenei’s website, which refers in English to “the myth of the massacre of the Jews known as the Holocaust.”

“This is the problem when you translate something from Persian to English, you may lose some of its meaning,” Zarif responded, according to the Huffington Post. “This has unfortunately been the case several times over. The point is, we condemn the killing of innocent people whether it happens in Nazi Germany or whether it is happening in Palestine.”

Zarif also spoke of the relations between Iran and the United States, saying the Islamic Republic is willing to forgive Washington’s history with Iran, but will not forget the decades of distrust between the two nations. He added that Tehran is open to negotiations with the United States over its nuclear program, but Washington must end its harsh sanctions.

According to Zarif, Iran is not developing a military nuclear program and has no desire for one, while Israel has 200 warheads and is a “source of aggression, instability.”

Zarif: ‘Smiles better than lies’

When asked about Netanyahu’s statement that he would present the truth about Iran’s nuclear ambitions to the world at the United Nations “in the face of the sweet talk and the blitz of smiles” by Iranian President Hassan Rohani, Jarif answered: “A smile attack is much better than a lie attack.

“Netanyahu and his colleagues have been saying since 1991… that Iran is six months away from a nuclear weapon,” Zarif continued. “Twenty-two years after that and they are still saying we’re six months away from nuclear weapons.”

The foreign minister’s comments follow a sudden thaw in U.S.-Iranian relations after decades as adversaries. President Barack Obama and Rohani spoke Friday by telephone, the first direct contact between the two countries’ leaders in three decades.

Netanyahu, who landed yesterday in New York, spent most of his day working on his speech to the UN General Assembly, which he will deliver tomorrow, and preparing for his meeting with Obama. In between, he met with the foreign ministers of Turkmenistan and Canada. Turkmenistan, where Israel opened a new embassy two years ago, is a Muslim republic bordering Iran.

Netanyahu will arrive in Washington this morning to meet with Obama. After the meeting the two will give statements to reporters and then have lunch with their advisers. Later, Netanyahu is to meet with Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry, and take part in an event in Congress in honor of outgoing Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren.

Netanyahu will fly back to New York this evening and deliver his address to the General Assembly tomorrow afternoon.

He was to have flown back to Israel on Wednesday, but will be extending his stay by a day, reserving Wednesday for an intensive round of interviews and press conferences with U.S. television networks and editors of major newspapers.

J Street cred

Meanwhile, Labor Party leader Shelly Yacimovich said yesterday that Israel should listen carefully to the message coming from Tehran and examine diplomatic ways to halt the Islamic Republic’s nuclear weapons program, but warned that “if the Iranians are misleading the world, all options are on the table.”

Speaking at J Street’s annual conference, the Yacimovich added: “We must not be naïve regarding the statements [coming] from Iran, but there is no reason to be paranoid. We know very well how to defend ourselves, and the right to self-defense is our basic right.”

She also called on Netanyahu to make progress in the peace negotiations with the Palestinians. “We have refused to be the fig leaf for the Netanyahu government,” she said, “but if we see significant steps in the political process, and right-wing elements threaten to leave because of them, we will act as a security net for Netanyahu, and under certain circumstances we may even reconsider joining the government.

“The two-state solution is the only solution for us,” Yacimovich said, “that allows us to continue to realize the Zionist dream of a Jewish and democratic state.”

She praised Obama’s commitment to peace between Israel and the Palestinians, which she called “a strategic, economic and moral interest” for Israel.

Biden will make the keynote address at the conference today, making him the highest-level American official to address the organization since it was founded five years ago. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara. Credit: Kobi Gideon / Government Press Office

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