Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday warned the US and other world powers not to allow Iran to retain the ability to enrich uranium, while urging Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state if they want peace.
Addressing pro-Israel lobby the American Israel Public Affairs Committee just a day after White House talks, Netanyahu avoided any explicit criticism of US President Barack Obama, but underscored the main differences with him over US-led nuclear diplomacy with Iran.
With Netanyahu facing pressure to meet looming deadlines for salvaging a US-brokered Middle East peace effort, the Israeli prime minister said he was prepared to make “historic peace” with the Palestinians, but offered no concessions.
Obama on Monday pressed him in private to help bridge differences in “the next several weeks,” a US official said.
Netanyahu reiterated his firm opposition to the possibility that a final deal to curb Iran’s disputed nuclear program would allow it to keep some technologies with bomb-making potential.
All of these must be dismantled, he said, adding that pressure on Tehran should be increased. That is the reverse of a modest easing of sanctions Iran received under an interim accord with the US and five other world powers in November last year.
“Unfortunately, the leading powers of the world are talking about leaving Iran with the capability to enrich uranium. I hope they don’t do that, because that would be a grave error. It would leave Iran as a threshold nuclear power,” Netanyahu said.
In a pledge that signaled both willingness to strike Iran’s nuclear sites as a last resort and refusal to yield on core peace terms with the Palestinians, Netanyahu told a cheering audience: “I will do whatever I must to defend the Jewish state of Israel.”
Yet the Israeli leader stopped short of issuing any direct threat against the Islamic Republic.
Turning to the Palestinians, Netanyahu said he wanted an accord, but put the onus on Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state — something they have long refused to do.
“It’s time the Palestinians stop denying history. Just as Israel is prepared to recognize a Palestinian state, the Palestinians must be prepared to recognize a Jewish state,” Netanyahu said.
At the same time, he made the case for a peace dividend for Israel and hostile Arab neighbors, saying peace could lead to prosperity across the region.
Netanyahu flew to Los Angeles later on Tuesday to attend a Hollywood premiere. The event was a screening at Paramount Studios of a new TV movie designed to showcase Israel for tourists, with Netanyahu himself the guide for a whistle-stop tour.
In Israel: The Royal Tour, he takes CBS journalist Peter Greenberg to the Red Sea and the Dead Sea, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, a high-tech center and the ancient Masada fortress. Greenberg said Netanyahu had no editorial control over the one-hour film.
Additional reporting by AFP