By HERB KEINON
Jerusalem urged the world on Thursday not to be fooled by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s smiles and to intensify sanctions against the regime until he takes concrete steps toward dismantling Tehran’s nuclear program.
“One should not be taken in by Rouhani’s deceptive words,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement. “The same Rouhani boasted in the past how he deceived the international community with nuclear talks, even as Iran was continuing with its nuclear program.”
The Prime Minister’s Office comments followed the Iranian president’s two-part interview with NBC on Wednesday and Thursday that aired just before he is to fly to the US and address the UN General Assembly.
Rouhani said Iran was not seeking war, and slammed Israel for bringing “instability” to the Middle East and for questioning his government’s intentions toward nuclear arms.
He called Israel “an occupier, a usurper government that does injustice to the people of the region,” and said it “has brought instability to the region with its war-mongering policies.”
The Prime Minister’s Office ridiculed Rouhani for accusing Israel of causing instability in the region at a time when Iran was sending people into Syria to slaughter innocent civilians, and was supporting terrorism around the world.
Rouhani said during the first part of the interview that Iran would never develop nuclear weapons and that he had “complete authority” to negotiate a nuclear deal with the United States and other Western powers.
The Iranian leader, who took office in August, reiterated that stance when asked about recent comments by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu questioning his motives and calling him a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
“We have clearly stated that we are not in pursuit of nuclear weapons and will not be,” Rouhani told NBC.
The Prime Minister’s Office dismissed this as “spin” designed to ensure that the “centrifuges continue to spin,” and said the International Atomic Energy Agency had determined otherwise.
“Only a combination of stopping uranium enrichment, removing all enriched uranium, dismantling the nuclear facility at Qom and stopping the plutonium track will constitute a real halt to the nuclear program,” the PMO said.
“Until these four steps are taken, the international community needs to intensify the pressure on Iran.
“The test is not Rouhani’s words, but rather the Iranian regime’s actions. Even while Rouhani was being interviewed, Iran was moving forward energetically with its nuclear program,” it said.
Rouhani’s regime is trying to cut a deal with the international community whereby it will give up an insignificant part of its nuclear program but retain and further fortify its ability to quickly develop nuclear arms at a time of its choosing, the Prime Minister’s Office said.
According to one Israeli official, Rouhani was long on smiles but short on substance during the interview, not saying yes or no when asked whether Israel should be wiped off the map, and not responding directly when asked whether, like his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he believed the Holocaust was a myth. Asked about the Holocaust directly, Rouhani replied, “What is important to Iran is that countries, people in the region grow closer and prevent aggression and injustice.”
The Prime Minister’s Office responded to his comment on the Holocaust saying “one doesn’t need to be a historian to recognize the existence of the Holocaust, one need only be human.”
The interview was the latest of moves by Rouhani – which included a recent letter exchange with US President Barack Obama – aimed at improving relations with the West.
The White House said on Thursday that the president is open to direct talks between Iran and the US, but only if Tehran is serious about getting rid of its nuclear weapons program.
White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters that Rouhani delivered some positive- sounding rhetoric in the NBC interview but “actions are more important than words.”
When Obama first ran for president in 2008, he said he would hold direct negotiations with Iran under certain conditions.
Carney said Obama still holds that position.
Obama, according to Carney, would be willing to have bilateral negotiations provided the Iranians were serious about addressing the international community’s insistence that Tehran give up its nuclear weapons program.
“That is the position we hold today,” Carney said.
With both Rouhani and Obama attending the UN General Assembly next week, speculation has grown that the two leaders might have an encounter of some type. Carney said no meeting is scheduled.
It would be a significant contact – no American president has met a top Iranian leader since the 1979 overthrow of the shah and the taking of American hostages at the US Embassy in Tehran.
Reuters contributed to this report.