UNITED NATIONS -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged foreign dignitaries Tuesday to view Iran's latest diplomatic charm offensive with distrust and warned that Israel would act alone, if necessary, to prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon.
"Israel will never acquiesce to nuclear arms in the hands of a rogue regime that repeatedly promises to wipe us off the map," Mr. Netanyahu said in a U.N. General Assembly address in New York. "I want there to be no confusion on this point. Israel will not allow Iran to get nuclear weapons. If Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel will stand alone."
Speaking just days after President Barack Obama's historic phone call with Iranian President Hasan Rouhani, Mr. Netanyahu appealed to a gathering that included Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to cast a skeptical eye on Iran's pledge to strike a nuclear deal, saying Tehran has repeatedly employed diplomatic outreach in the past to disguise its plans to build a nuclear bomb.
The Israeli leader said that while Mr. Rouhani's conciliatory rhetoric sets him apart from his confrontational predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, both men remain committed to the same goal, developing a nuclear bomb.
"Now, I know Rouhani doesn't sound like Ahmadinejad," Mr. Netanyahu said. "But when it comes to Iran's nuclear weapons program, the only difference between them is this: Ahmadinejad was a wolf in wolf's clothing: Rouhani is a wolf in sheep's clothing, a wolf who thinks he can pull the wool over the eyes of the international community."
Khodadad Seifi, a diplomat with Iran's U.N. delegation, responded swiftly, warning, "The Israeli prime minister had better not even think about attacking Iran, let alone planning for that."
Mr. Netanyahu should take care to avoid misunderstanding Iran, Mr. Seifi said. "Iran's centuries-old policy of nonaggression must not be interpreted as its inability to defend itself," he said.
The Israeli leader's remarks to the General Assembly followed a week of intensive diplomatic exchanges between the United States and Iran, including a meeting of major powers' foreign ministers that brought Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif together at U.N. headquarters to discuss Iran's nuclear program. The flurry of exchanges culminated with Mr. Obama's phone call Friday to Mr. Rouhani, marking the first direct conversation between U.S. and Iranian leaders in more than 30 years.
Mr. Obama is exploring a possible diplomatic opening with Mr. Rouhani, who has pledged to rebuild Tehran's relationship with Washington and its Western allies. The two leaders have instructed their top diplomats to work with other world powers to resolve the dispute over Iran's nuclear intentions.
"We have to see if, in fact, they are serious about their willingness to abide by international norms and international law and international requirements and resolutions," Mr. Obama said Monday after a meeting at the White House with Mr. Netanyahu. "But we enter into these negotiations very clear-eyed they will not be easy, and anything that we do will require the highest standards of verification."
The United States, its European allies and Israel say Iran is enriching uranium to fuel a nuclear weapons program. Iran maintains that it has no intention of building a nuclear bomb, but needs an indigenous capacity to enrich uranium to meet its own energy needs.
Mr. Netanyahu accused Mr. Rouhani -- who served as Iran's chief nuclear negotiator from 2003 to 2005 -- of having been the "mastermind" of a diplomatic strategy that allowed Tehran to advance its nuclear weapons program "behind a smokescreen of diplomatic engagement and very smooth rhetoric."
"He fooled the world once; now, he thinks he can fool it again," Mr. Netanyahu said. Then, referring to the uranium concentrate powder that is a step toward nuclear enrichment, he said, "Rouhani thinks he can have his yellow cake and eat it, too."
The Israeli leader recalled that the international community had once placed its hopes in the prospect of a diplomatic resolution to another nuclear crisis -- this one in North Korea. In 2005, the Bush administration reached an accord with the Pyongyang government to dismantle its nuclear arms program in exchange for sanctions relief, fuel and other commercial incentives. A year later, he recalled, the North tested its first nuclear bomb.
The "only diplomatic solution" to the nuclear crisis, Mr. Netanyahu said, is to "fully dismantle Iran's nuclear program and prevent it from having one in the future."
A meaningful deal, he said, would require the cessation of Iran's uranium enrichment, the transfer of enriched uranium out of the country and the dismantling of Iran's nuclear infrastructure to eliminate its ability to produce plutonium and establish a "break-out" capacity to quickly start a weapons program. In the meantime, he said, the international community must maintain tough sanctions and a credible threat of force.