A day after his address at the U.N. General Assembly, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continued to target what he called Iranian President Hasan Rouhani's "charm offensive" with an intensive media campaign.
In an interview with NBC News on Wednesday, Netanyahu reiterated his call on the international community to insist on tough economic sanctions against Iran to prevent them from developing a nuclear weapon, and urged the world to keep the military option on the table. The prime minister cautioned that Rouhani's strategy was to woo the West at the behest of the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.
"[The Iranian people] are governed not by Rouhani. They're governed by Ayatollah Khamenei. He heads a cult. That cult is wild in its ambitions and its aggression," Netanyahu told NBC News' Andrea Mitchell.
The prime minister also criticized Rouhani's tone as duplicitous. "He calls the shots, Khamenei. [Rouhani] tells his boss, the dictator of Iran, 'I can get you the completion of the nuclear program by speaking nicely to the West. What [former President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad tried to do with a frown, I'll do with a smile,'" Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu also remarked that he believed the pressure he has been exerting on the U.S. not to ease sanctions against Iran was helping the administration keep other Western countries, which would otherwise be interested in returning to doing business with the Islamic republic, in line.
"The [Iranian] regime already has missiles that can reach Israel. Now they are developing inter-continental missiles that will reach the U.S.," said Netanyahu.
As part of his media tour on Wednesday, the prime minister met for breakfast with senior American news editors, including from The New York Times, which on Tuesday ran an editorial that criticized Netanyahu's U.N. speech.
Speaking with PBS's Charlie Rose later Wednesday, Netanyahu said, " … we have to be very responsible, buck the trends, don't go by fashion. If you govern by fashion and you govern by the kind of editorials you're gonna get, you'll get good editorials and later you'll get good eulogies."
"My responsibility is to ensure the survival, security, longevity of the one and only Jewish state. I will do that pursuing peace, and I'm prepared to make historic compromises," Netanyahu said, perhaps alluding to ongoing peace talks with the Palestinians. Despite this, he said he would "never compromise on Israel's security."
Meanwhile Wednesday, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon echoed Netanyahu's sentiments, saying that "some in the West, sadly, are tempted to give in to wishful thinking [on Iran]."
Speaking at a Paratroopers Brigade exercise on the Golan Heights, Ya'alon added that it was Netanyahu's duty to "expose the accurate picture" on Iran. In that regard, he said, the prime minister's speech to the General Assembly was "successful."
EU minister: West may drop demand for Iran to halt all nuclear work
In the first sign that Netanyahu's concerns about waning Western resolve has merit, a senior EU diplomat said on Wednesday that Western governments were considering allowing Iran to continue some uranium enrichment as part of a possible deal to resolve the decade-old dispute over Iran's nuclear program.
In an interview with Reuters, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius said: "I believe part of the game is that if the Iranians prove that whatever they are doing is peaceful, it will, as I understand, be possible for them to conduct it."
"It's conditional. It is not a done deal, but nevertheless it is a possibility to explore," he said. "Thanks to this rapprochement. How it will look, we don't know."
Lithuania holds the rotating presidency of the European Union until the end of this year, giving Linkevicius a closer insight into many internal policy debates.
U.S. lawmakers craft tough new sanctions
U.S. lawmakers from both parties, however, are crafting tough new U.S. economic sanctions to further isolate the Islamic republic as U.S. President Barack Obama continues to insist that Rouhani prove his willingness to curtail some of his country's uranium enrichment activity.
Rouhani said Wednesday in Tehran that Iran is open to discussing "details" of its nuclear activities to reach a deal with world powers. He emphasized Tehran's long-standing position that Iran has a fundamental right to enrich uranium, a key ingredient of nuclear weapons that Iran says it needs for peaceful purposes. But his statement was a veiled hint that Iran is open to negotiate on the level of uranium enrichment as part of a deal in return for lifting of sanctions.
Responding to Netanyahu's speech at the U.N., Rouhani said, "Such remarks show that we are moving in the right direction. When Israel sees that its sword doesn't work and that wisdom has prevailed in the world and that the Iranian people's message of peace is heard, they definitely get angry."
While the current government shutdown may have muted congressional reaction to Obama's phone call with Rouhani, lawmakers are moving forward on legislation for new sanctions, with plans to tee them up so the president can use enhanced sanctions as part of his negotiating leverage.
In July, the House approved tough new sanctions on Iran's oil sector and other industries. The bill blacklists any business in Iran's mining and construction sectors and commits the United States to the goal of ending all Iranian oil sales worldwide by 2015. It also builds on U.S. penalties that went into effect last year that have cut Iran's petroleum exports in half and left its economy in tatters. China, India and several other Asian nations continue to buy billions of dollars of Iranian oil each month, providing Tehran with much of the money it spends on its weapons and nuclear programs.
No bill would likely be finalized before November. That gives the administration at least several weeks to see whether Iran changes course under Rouhani.
Israeli officials said Wednesday that concern over a possible Iranian ruse was shared by the U.S.'s Sunni allies in the Middle East, headed by Saudi Arabia and including some Persian Gulf states. The officials said open channels of communication have been maintained in secret for quite some time already.