Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Tuesday morning, Sept. 17, 2013 at the weekly cabinet meeting that he will postpone his speech to the United Nations General Assembly by one day to make time to meet with United States President Barack Obama. Netanyahu was scheduled to address the General Assembly on Sept. 30 instead he will now meet with President Obama at the White House in Washington D.C. before flying to New York to speak at the U.N. on Oct. 1.
Prime Minister Netanyahu requested to meet with the President, and the only day Obama was available was Sept. 30; Obama is occupied with hearings for the implementation of his health care reform law, the Affordable Care Act, more popularly known as Obamacare. Obama has refused to meet however, with the new Iranian President Hassan Rohani, who will also be speaking at the General Assembly and requested to meet as well with Obama.
The announcement and confirmation comes from Netanyahu’s meeting with his cabinet Tuesday morning Israel time and from senior Israeli and U.S. officials. The cabinet meeting was delayed two days from its usual Sunday date because of the high holiday of Yom Kippur and the Yom Kippur War 40th anniversary ceremony observed this past Sunday. In his opening remarks, PM Netanyahu stated; “In another week and a half I will attend the United Nations General Assembly, and before that I will meet with President Obama. I intend to focus on the issue of stopping Iran’s nuclear program – a true halt to the nuclear program.” The two leaders will also discuss the crisis in Syria.
The request to meet with Obama comes one day after Netanyahu met with Secretary of State John Kerry at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem. At their meeting on Sunday, Sept. 15, 2013, Netanyahu and Kerry spoke primarily about the Syria chemical weapons disarmament agreement, but also Iran’s nuclear weapons’ threat, and the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Last year, both Netanyahu and Obama were in New York at the same time to speak at the U.N. General Assembly. They did not meet because Israel and the U.S’s differences over dealing with Iran’s growing nuclear capabilities and possession of uranium to create nuclear weapons. Netanyahu requested to meet with Obama last year, and instead of meeting with Netanyahu, the President chose to campaign for the 2012 President election and made an appearance on the ABC daytime talk show “The View.” This left both heads of state on the outs until Obama’s reelection and first formal trip to Israel in March 2013, resulting in a thaw between the two leaders.
This is the third year in a row Netanyahu will speak at the United Nations General Assembly. He first spoke in 2011 requesting that the U.N. not grant the Palestinians’ request to be admitted to the international body as a non-member observer state. More memorable however, was Netanyahu’s “Red Line” speech from last year, which became well known, not just for the speech itself, but rather more for the graph the Prime Minister used to accompany it.
Netanyahu spoke about a nuclear Iran and the red line in Iran’s nuclear development timeline where Israel will no longer tolerate the Iranian threat to their national security. The Prime Minister requested that the U.N. to adopt this red line, asking; “It’s not a question of whether Iran will get the bomb. The question is at what stage can we stop Iran from getting the bomb.”
Accompanying his address Netanyahu displayed a drawn type graphic of a nuclear bomb indicating before what stage Iran should be stopped from further developing nuclear weapons. Netanyahu stressed the red line that should be adopted in a cartoonish graphic with a literal red line under the bomb’s fuse, dramaticizing and clarifying his and Israel’s position.
Netanyahu plans to speak again at the U.N. about Iran’s nuclear weapons program. At the weekly cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Sept, 17 the Prime Minister discussed the steps that need to be implemented and taken against Iran to end their nuclear development program. Netanyahu explained; “There are four steps. The first is the cessation of all uranium enrichment activity, the second is the removal of uranium from Iran, the third is the closure of the Qom facility and the fourth is the halting of plutonium enrichment. Only all four steps will constitute an actual halt of the nuclear endeavor. Pressure on Iran must be intensified, not withdrawn, until all four goals are achieved.”
Netanyahu making a comparison to Syria’s Aug. 21, 2013 chemical weapons attack emphasized that Israel must step up as the threat to Iran; “Events in recent weeks have strengthened the assumptions under which we operate: A rogue state that develops or obtains weapons of mass destruction may use it, or better yet will eventually use it. Only a credible military threat can allow diplomacy to stop armament. Israel must maintain force so as to be able to defend itself at all times, against any threat.” Concluding with Hillel’s saying; “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?”
Netanyahu addressing this topic has become even more relevant in light of Syria’s chemical weapons attack against its citizens and the three weeks in limbo where the U.S. first planned as a response an unpopular limited military attack to the transformation into a diplomPM Netanyahu’s Remarks at the Start of the Weekly Cabinet Meetingatic situation early last week. Kerry made a comment on Monday, Sept. 9 about Syrian President Bashar al-Assad relinquishing his arsenal, prompting Russia’s reaction, a proposal suggesting that Syria actually give their chemical weapons for international control for destruction. Then on Saturday, Sept. 14, the U.S. and Russia came to an agreement in order to dispose of Syria’s arsenal. With the publication of the U.N.’s inspectors’ report on Monday Sept. 16, there is now confirmation of the chemical weapons attack.
Throughout the three weeks, Iran figured prominently when the U.S. considered a military response; they felt they had to demonstrate a strong response to deter Iran from moving forward with their nuclear program. The U.S. was concerned a lack of repercussions would send the wrong message to Iran. Even with the diplomatic solution, the threat of a military action remains if Syria does not comply with all the terms of the arranged agreement. This is partly to show Iran, America still has a strong arm and there are severe consequences in crossing the red lines.
Maybe PM Netanyahu’s planned meeting with President Obama following the recent Syria crisis has opened the eyes of the world of the gravity of the Iranian threat Netanyahu was trying to emphasize a year ago in his “Red Line” speech. Last year Netanyahu stated in his address; “I believe that faced with a clear red line, Iran will back down. This will give more time for sanctions and diplomacy to convince Iran to dismantle its nuclear weapons programme altogether.” This year Netanyahu might have more open audience to his warnings and message at the U.N. in light of recent events; a year later is better than never.
- PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s Remarks at the Start of the Weekly Cabinet Meeting, Sept. 17, 2013.
- PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s Speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Sept. 27, 2012.
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are US, Canadian & Israeli politics.