Lally Weymouth is a senior associate editor of The Washington Post.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with The Post’s Lally Weymouth on Thursday in Jerusalem about how he sees the situation in Israel and the surrounding countries. Excerpts:
Q: You said this week that Israel would not accept anything less than the total cessation of all enrichment of nuclear materials by Iran. You also called for the removal from Iran of all enriched nuclear materials. You then went on and laid down quite a few conditions. Are your conditions greater than before, and do you have a timetable for military action against Iran?
A: These aren’t my conditions. They are the demands of the U.N. Security Council. And they’re minimal demands — that Iran remove all enriched nuclear material, that they stop all enrichment and that they shut down the illicit nuclear facility in Qom. I think they should be held to this. It’s an acid test of whether they are serious. We shouldn’t put style over substance.
What do you think of the recent Iranian elections?
I think the elections reflect a deep dissatisfaction of the Iranian people with its regime. Unfortunately, this result doesn’t have the power to change Iran’s nuclear ambitions. These are determined not by the elected president but by the so-called supreme leader, [Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei.
You mean the nuclear program is controlled by Khamenei?
Guided and controlled by Khamenei. He remains committed to pursuing the path of arming Iran with nuclear weapons, and I’m afraid the elections are not going to change that.
But after all, Khamenei ruled out [of contention] Esfandiar [Rahim] Mashaei and other candidates. Hassan Rouhani was one of the candidates the supreme leader allowed to participate in the election.
That’s right, Rouhani was chosen as one of a slate of candidates that conform to Khamenei’s extremist views. They eliminated hundreds of candidates and left seven. Then they eliminated [former president Ali Akbar Hashemi] Rafsanjani and Mashaei. They left Rouhani. Rouhani used to be the national security adviser of Iran and the former nuclear negotiator. He’s the author of a doctrine — I call this doctrine “talk and enrich.” He wrote the book on it.
Is this an analogy, or he actually wrote a book?
He wrote a book. The book was [about] his experiences in negotiations.
As a nuclear negotiator?
Yes, and other experiences.
So you think Rouhani will put a nice face on the Iranian regime?
He himself said that by calming the international community, Iran is able to steadily move forward with its nuclear weapons program. Here’s a direct quote from 2004: “While we were talking with the Europeans in Tehran, we were installing equipment in [parts of] the facility in Isfahan” — that’s a nuclear conversion facility. And then he says, “In fact, by creating a calm environment, we were able to complete the work in Isfahan.”
We can’t let the Iranian regime play this game. They play for time. They continue to enrich. They broaden the base of their nuclear program. What Iran is seeking is not one or two bombs but 200 bombs. They’re building ICBMs [intercontinental ballistic missiles] parallel to developing their nuclear weapons program. The ICBMs are not intended for us; they’re intended for you. Within six to eight years, they intend to be able to reach the continental United States. To have a regime like this — that is, a rogue regime — have a nuclear arsenal with their messianic, apocalyptic ambitions is to imperil the entire world. It is to put the peace of the world in great jeopardy.
Are you prepared to do something about Iran on a military basis?
I never talk about what we’re prepared to do, but Israel always reserves the right to act and defend itself, by itself, against any threat.
I know President Obama has said he won’t accept a nuclear Iran. Do you believe him? Do you trust him?
I believe that’s his goal. I think that we’re all [being] tested, all of us. And the jury is out on all of us, on whether we muster the resolve to prevent this from happening. Because Iran with nuclear weapons would be the greatest threat to peace and stability in the world since the mid-20th century, when another threat was crushed. It imperiled the world. This will imperil the world. This is a regime that sponsors worldwide terror across 30 countries. They and their proxy, Hezbollah, engage in terror attacks. They were just uncovered in Nigeria and before that in Bulgaria.
You mean Hezbollah’s efforts to kill Israeli diplomats and tourists throughout the world?
Yes, but also killing others. They have a network that’s been uncovered in Thailand, in Azerbaijan.
But don’t they specialize in killing Israelis?