In Mideast Chaos, Netanyahu Sees Opportunity : The Two-Way In an interview with NPR, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says that Arab countries "no longer view Israel as an enemy but a potential partner."
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In Mideast Chaos, Netanyahu Sees Opportunity

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In Mideast Chaos, Netanyahu Sees Opportunity

In Mideast Chaos, Netanyahu Sees Opportunity

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Israel's prime minister is managing a complicated situation as he visits the U.S. On Tuesday, here in New York, Benjamin Netanyahu gave a speech. He named Iran as the overriding security threat to the Middle East.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

On Wednesday, here in Washington, he had a long meeting with President Obama. The president takes a different approach to Iran than Netanyahu would like. The U.S. made a temporary deal over Iran's nuclear program, which Netanyahu has criticized.

INSKEEP: The U.S. is now seeking a longer deal, and it effectively shares a goal with Iran, battling ISIS in Iraq and Syria. But when Netanyahu met us yesterday, he was restrained. The prime minister said he sees opportunities for Israel in a changing situation, even if he still disagrees with those nuclear talks.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: It's not enough to seek to prevent Iran from having nuclear weapons. We think it's important to prevent Iran from having the capability to make nuclear weapons in short order.

INSKEEP: And given the negotiations that, as you know, are ongoing, do you feel that you and the Obama administration - which is involved in those negotiations - are on the same page?

NETANYAHU: Well, we have a difference of emphasis between the nuclear weapons themselves and the capability to make them in short order.

INSKEEP: Right.

NETANYAHU: To the extent that an agreement emerges that is close to our position, which says, no enrichment capability, no centrifuges, you don't really need it, Iran, because there are 17 nations in the world that have civilian nuclear energy without centrifuges. Centrifuges are only used for one thing...

INSKEEP: The agreement that's beginning to take...

NETANYAHU: ...To make bomb-grade material.

INSKEEP: The temporary agreement was not that. The outlines of a long-term agreement, if that arrives, is not likely to be that.

NETANYAHU: Well...

INSKEEP: Can you accept what is on the table if they manage to finalize it?

NETANYAHU: Well, I hope very much that it approaches, as close as possible, our position.

INSKEEP: Is it acceptable to you if they get up to the November deadline for negotiations and end up with another short-term deal, some kind of extension that allows them to talk more?

NETANYAHU: Depends what it is. But I've often said, and I've heard it echoed from the president, no deal is better than a bad deal. And a deal that would leave Iran with capacity to arrive in short order to nuclear weapons would be a very bad deal. I should be clear - enough enriched nuclear material for a bomb. Making the weapon is another process.

INSKEEP: United Nations nuclear inspectors have not given Iran an entirely clean bill this year. They've criticized Iran for failing to meet some parts of the agreement, but it does appear that there is less enriched uranium in Iran today than there was a year ago because a lot of it has been neutralized. Is Israel safer than a year ago because of that temporary agreement that made that possible?

NETANYAHU: Well, in one sense, they've taken out the material. That was important. But what they've done in turn - the Iranians - is they've amassed a lot more centrifuges that can convert from a lower-level enriched uranium to a higher-level. They can just go with the express train to the 90 percent enriched uranium, which is what you need to make a bomb. So unfortunately their capacity to do that has not, in sum total, been changed yet. And that's what's being negotiated right now. T hat's really the issue.

INSKEEP: Is Israel safer, in effect, because Iran has in some way become an ally of the United States and the West in fighting ISIS? Iran is finding common cause, although they're not directly working together.

NETANYAHU: Iran is not an ally with the United States. Iran - the ruling clique that really rules Iran, not the soft-speaking smooth-talking foreign minister or prime minister or president.

INSKEEP: Well, let's be clear; they're not working together but they're fighting the same enemy.

NETANYAHU: Well, when both of your enemies are fighting each other, don't strengthen one or the other, weaken both. I think the good thing that has happened is this; it's precisely because many Arab states now recognize that they and Israel share these two challenges, these two dangers - one a nuclear-armed Iran and secondly their rivals, the radical Sunni Islamists, like al-Qaida, like ISIS and so on, who are making inroads into their societies - that these countries no longer view Israel as an enemy but as a potential partner. And I think the task right now is to harness this historic change, which I've never seen in my lifetime.

INSKEEP: Will you have time to harness that during your time as prime minister, do you think? Can it happen in that period of time, whatever it is, a few years?

NETANYAHU: How much time do you give me?

INSKEEP: You tell me.

NETANYAHU: I'm not going to wait for all that time. I've announced that - in the U.N. that I think that we have to take a fresh look at the peace process and maybe think out of the box. It used to be that we thought that a Palestinian-Israeli peace would facilitate a broader peace between Israel and the Arab world. And that's certainly true, but I think more than ever the other way around is even truer, that a broader Israeli rapprochement with the Arab countries would facilitate an Israeli-Palestinian peace. I am exploring this possibility as we speak, and I spoke about it quite at length, I have to say, with President Obama.

INSKEEP: Prime Minister Netanyahu, thank you very much.

NETANYAHU: Thank you. Good to talk to you.

INSKEEP: He spoke with us here in New York.

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