Netanyahu’s tough talk on Iran may not fly at U.N.

MCCLATCHY FOREIGN STAFFSeptember 30, 2013 

JERUSALEM — A year ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu captured international attention when he drew a red line on a cartoon likeness of a bomb during a speech at the United Nations on Iran’s nuclear program.

When he addresses the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday, a day after meeting President Barack Obama, he will face a more daunting task.

A diplomatic offensive at the United Nations last week by Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s new president, topped off by Rouhani’s phone conversation Friday with Obama, has challenged Netanyahu to get his message across in a changed diplomatic atmosphere.

With Washington moving to negotiate with Iran about its nuclear program, Israeli officials have voiced concern about a possible weakening of economic sanctions and postponement of any military threat that could stop what they say is Tehran’s steady advance toward a nuclear bomb.

Officials say Netanyahu will present evidence of continued Iranian efforts to attain a nuclear weapon, and urge the United States and other nations not to be taken in by what has been called Rouhani’s “charm offensive.”

“I will tell the truth in the face of the sweet talk and offensive of smiles,” Netanyahu said Saturday night before boarding his plane to New York.

To help support his case, Israeli security officials said Sunday they arrested a Belgian businessman of Iranian descent for spying on Israel and gathering intelligence on possible terrorism targets.

Israeli commentators said Netanyahu will have to work hard to offset the impression left by Rouhani in his U.N. speech and other appearances, where he projected the image of a peace-seeking moderate.

“What Rouhani did changed the rules of the game,” said Uzi Rabi, director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern studies at Tel Aviv University. “When (former Iranian president Mahmoud) Ahmedinejad was in charge it was pretty simple: What you see is what you get.

“Now you have a much more experienced diplomat who’s coming up with a plan to help Iran recover economically, to launder Iran’s nuclear program and turn Iran into a much more acceptable diplomatic player.”

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