Netanyahu Is Said to View Iran Deal as a Possible Trap
WASHINGTON — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, stepping up his effort to blunt a diplomatic offensive by Iran, plans to warn the United Nations next week that a nuclear deal with the Iranian government could be a trap similar to one set by North Korea eight years ago, according to an Israeli official involved in drafting the speech.
Mr. Netanyahu is scheduled to address the General Assembly next Tuesday, a week after President Obama and Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, are to speak at the United Nations.
But the Israeli government, clearly rattled by the sudden talk of a diplomatic opening, offered a preview Sunday of Mr. Netanyahu’s hard-edged message, in which he will set the terms for what would be acceptable to Israel in any agreement concerning Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
“A bad agreement is worse than no agreement at all,” the Israeli official said, reading a statement from the prime minister’s office that he said reflected Mr. Netanyahu’s remarks.
President Rouhani, in advance of his arrival in New York this week, has signaled a willingness to negotiate. The Obama administration, while professing wariness, is clearly intrigued by the possibility of resolving a problem that has bedeviled President Obama as long as he has been in office. And that, in turn, has deeply unsettled the Israelis.
“Iran must not be allowed to repeat North Korea’s ploy to get nuclear weapons,” said the Israeli official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
“Just like North Korea before it,” he said, “Iran professes to seemingly peaceful intentions; it talks the talk of nonproliferation while seeking to ease sanctions and buy more time for its nuclear program.”
In his speech, the official said, Mr. Netanyahu plans to review the history of North Korea’s negotiations, with particular emphasis on an active period of diplomacy in 2005, when the North Korean government, in what was then seen as a landmark deal, agreed to abandon its nuclear weapons program in return for economic, security and energy benefits.
A year later, North Korea tested its first nuclear device. Israeli officials warn something similar could happen if the United States were to conclude too hasty a deal with Mr. Rouhani. As Iran is doing today, the North Koreans insisted on a right to a peaceful nuclear energy program.
There are differences between the two cases. At the time that it concluded the deal in 2005, North Korea said it had already produced a nuclear bomb. American intelligence experts believe Iran is still many months, if not years, away from having such a weapon.
But American officials agree that North Korea offers a troubling precedent of nuclear negotiations in which a rogue nation repeatedly extracted concessions from the United States and other countries, only to renege later and fire missiles or test nuclear devices.
In his speech, the Israeli official said, Mr. Netanyahu will offer a familiar list of demands: that Iran cease all enrichment of uranium and agree to the removal of all enriched uranium from its territory; dismantle its nuclear facility hidden in a mountain near the holy city of Qum; dismantle its newest generation of centrifuges at another facility, Natanz; and stop construction of a heavy-water reactor at Arak.
What is new is Mr. Netanyahu’s explicit comparison of Iran to North Korea — a rhetorical device devised to undermine Mr. Rouhani’s image as a moderate leader who posted greetings on Twitter to Jews for Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. North Korea’s reclusive dictators — whether Kim Jong-il in 2005 or his son, Kim Jong-un, today — have not traveled to the United Nations to plead their country’s case to the world.
The Israeli official said that Mr. Netanyahu recognized that he would be labeled a naysayer for his pessimism. “He feels morally impelled to stake out this position,” the official said.
The White House has sought to allay the fears of Israel officials, assuring them that Mr. Obama will judge Mr. Rouhani by his actions, not his words, and that the United States is not planning to prematurely ease the economic sanctions against Iran that have crippled its economy.
“We certainly recognize and appreciate Israel’s significant concerns about Iran, given the threats that have been made against Israel and the outrageous comments that have come out of Iran for many years about Israel,” Benjamin J. Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser, told reporters on Friday, previewing Mr. Obama’s speech on Tuesday.
But with a recent exchange of letters between Mr. Obama and Mr. Rouhani stirring hopes of a diplomatic breakthrough, Israeli officials are not mollified. At last year’s General Assembly, Mr. Netanyahu provided what was probably its most dramatic moment, brandishing a simple drawing that he said demonstrated how close Iran was to producing a nuclear bomb.
This year, Israeli officials fear, the highest drama may be Mr. Obama greeting Mr. Rouhani on the sidelines of the General Assembly, something that has not happened for decades and which they worry would leave Israel more isolated in dealing with Iran.