Netanyahu talks tough on Iran before Vatican talks
Published Monday 02/12/2013 (updated) 02/12/2013 22:50
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech on Dec. 1,
2013 at the Great Synagogue of Rome during the start of the Jewish
festival of Hanukkah (AFP/Tiziana Fabi)
ROME (AFP) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has restated his firm opposition to a nuclear deal with Iran during a visit to Rome in which he was set to meet Pope Francis and Prime Minister Enrico Letta on Monday.
"It is very easy to receive a pat on the shoulder from the international community, to bow one's head," Netanyahu said on Sunday at a candle-lighting ceremony in Rome's main synagogue which he visited with Letta.
"I would like to dispel any illusions. Iran aspires to attain an atomic bomb. It would thus threaten not only Israel but also Italy, Europe and the entire world," he was quoted as saying on his website.
"There should be no going astray after the attack of smiles. Today there is a regime in Iran that supports terrorism, facilitates the massacre of civilians in Syria and unceasingly arms its proxies," he said.
Netanyahu later on Monday will be received for the first time at an audience by Pope Francis, who is expected to travel to the Middle East next year.
Israeli sources say the visit could take place before Israeli President Shimon Peres ends his term in July.
Although no date has been made official, sources on both sides say it is likely to take place on May 25-26.
Israel and the Vatican first established full diplomatic relations in 1993, but have been engaged in years of thorny diplomatic negotiations over property rights and tax exemptions for the Catholic Church, which have yet to be fully resolved.
Netanyahu and Francis are also expected to discuss negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, which resumed in July after a three-year hiatus but have faltered due to Israeli plans for new settlement building.
Netanyahu will then hold a meeting with Letta and a joint press conference is expected at around 1400 GMT.
Iran has agreed to curb its nuclear program for the next six months in exchange for limited sanctions relief following marathon in Geneva last month.
Iranian President Rouhani has previously called for Israel to give up its own currently existing nuclear program as part of a move to create a nuclear weapons-free zone across the Middle East. Israel has never declared its own nuclear bombs but is widely suspected to have many.
"Israel, the only non-party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty in this region, should join thereto without any further delay," Rouhani told a meeting on Sept. 26.
He said that "all nuclear activities in the region" would then be subject to International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.
"No nation should possess nuclear weapons, since there are no right hands for these wrong weapons," added Rouhani.
US President Barack Obama's administration has argued that the preliminary deal will help ensure the security of the Middle East region as it seeks to nail down a comprehensive settlement with Iran.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who was elected earlier this year, has promised a more diplomatic approach to the West after eight years of stalled talks and escalating sanctions under his hardline predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Ma'an staff contributed to this report