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Israeli PM dismisses Iran's proposals

Iran says its nuclear programme is for peaceful energy purposes only.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Picture: AFP

UNITED NATIONS - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday dismissed a charm offensive by Iran's new president as a ruse concocted by a "wolf in sheep's clothing" and declared that Israel was ready to stand alone to deny Tehran an atomic weapon.

In a combative address to the UN General Assembly, Netanyahu assailed the trustworthiness of Hassan Rouhani, Iran's centrist president who has made diplomatic overtures to the US and spoke by telephone last week with President Barack Obama.

"Rouhani doesn't sound like Ahmadinejad," Netanyahu said, referring to Rouhani's hardline predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose annual UN addresses were stridently anti-Western and anti-Israel.

"But when it comes to Iran's nuclear weapons programme, the only difference between them is this: Ahmadinejad was a wolf in wolf's clothing, Rouhani is a wolf in sheep's clothing, a wolf who thinks he can pull the wool over the eyes of the international community," Netanyahu said.

"This is a ruse," Netanyahu added. "It's a ploy."

Netanyahu's address, the last at this year's gathering of world leaders in New York, reflected Israeli worries that the emerging signs of what could become a US-Iranian rapprochement might lead to a premature easing of international sanctions and military threats designed to deny Iran the means to make a bomb.

The US, Israel and other countries accuse Iran of using its nuclear programme to try to develop the capability to produce weapons.

Rouhani said nuclear weapons "have no place in Iran's security and defence doctrine, and contradict our fundamental religious and ethical convictions".

The Israeli leader referred to Rouhani's 1989-2003 tenure as the head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, a time when he said Iranian "henchmen" killed opposition leaders in Berlin, 85 people at a Jewish centre in Buenos Aires and 19 US soldiers in a bomb attack on the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia.

"Are we to believe that Rouhani, the national security adviser of Iran at the time, knew nothing about these attacks?" Netanyahu said. "Of course he did, just as 30 years ago Iran's security chiefs knew about the bombings in Beirut that killed 241 American Marines and 58 French paratroopers."

Netanyahu made clear that Israel, believed to possess the Middle East's only atomic arsenal, was prepared to resort to unilateral military action against Iran if it deems diplomacy a dead end.

The bulk of his speech was about Iran, but he also touched on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, saying the Jewish state was prepared to make a "historic compromise." He faulted Palestinian leaders for not reciprocating enough.

Rouhani, who took office last month after being elected in June, projected a more moderate tone from Iran at the world forum last week, with long-term adversaries Iran and the United States now preparing for renewed nuclear talks.

Later this month, Iran will meet with the five permanent UN Security Council members and Germany in Geneva to pick up from last week's discussions in New York that included Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and US Secretary of State John Kerry.

IRAN CAUTIONS ISRAEL

Iran has made clear it wants a swift deal that would lift the crippling international sanctions against it and put an end to the decade-long standoff over its nuclear ambitions.

In a response to Netanyahu's speech, Khodadad Seifi, a representative of the Iranian UN delegation, rejected Israel's allegations and told the 193-nation General Assembly that Iran was "fully committed" to its nuclear non-proliferation obligations.

He warned Israel that Iran was able to respond to any Israeli attack, saying, "The Israeli prime minister had better not even think about attacking Iran, let alone planning for that."

Netanyahu said Iran's nuclear programme had continued at a "vast and feverish" pace since the election of Rouhani.

Although Iran did not cross that "red line", Israel worries that it has improved its technologies and is now capable of dashing toward a first bomb within weeks.

Netanyahu also noted the thousands of years of Persian-Jewish amity that ended with the fierce anti-Israel hostility ushered in by the 1979 revolution in Iran.

After meeting with Netanyahu on Monday, Obama reiterated his determination to prevent Iran from getting nuclear arms. Both leaders said their countries were cooperating on the issue.

Meanwhile, the US and South Korea signed a new strategy to deter North Korea's possible use of nuclear arms and other weapons of mass destruction amid growing threats from Pyongyang, their defence chiefs said on Wednesday.

The defence ministers also agreed to review the timing of the transfer of war-time command control of their combined forces on the Korean peninsula from the US military to South Korea, a joint statement issued after their meeting said.

The transfer is scheduled to take place in December 2015, but there have been calls in South Korea for it to be postponed while North Korea continues to push ahead with its nuclear weapons and long-range missile programme.