Israeli PM Netanyahu urges vigilance after Iran elects Rouhani


US President Barack Obama speaks during a bilateral meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sept. 21, 2011 at the United Nations in New York City.


Mandel Ngan

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged the international community to maintain pressure on Iran after the reformist-backed and relatively moderate Hassan Rouhani was elected president.

Netanyahu said Iran's much-debated nuclear program should be stopped "by any means," and that despite "wishful thinking," Rouhani's win was unlikely to alter the diplomatic standoff on its nuclear program. 

"The international community must not give in to wishful thinking or temptation and loosen the pressure on Iran for it to stop its nuclear program," Netanyahu told his cabinet on Sunday.

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, determines Iran's nuclear policy - a policy the US, Israel and their allies have responded to with strict economic sanctions that have severely weakened the rial, Iran's currency, and damaged its economy.

Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs echoed Netanyahu's remarks in a statement on Saturday, saying it remained skeptical of any perceived change, as the election was not entirely democratic.

"The President-elect in Iran had been shortlisted by the Ayatollah Khamenei, who has disqualified and removed candidates who did not conform his extremist views," the statement said. "Iran's nuclear program has so far been determined by Khamenei, and not by Iran's President."

But not all Israeli politicians agreed entirely with Netanyahu's warning.

Israeli President Shimon Peres, when asked if Rouhani, a former international nuclear negotiator, would alter nuclear policy, told Reuters: "He said he will not go for these extreme policies. I am not sure he specified his policies. But it will be better, I am sure, and that is why the people voted for him."

Zehava Gal-On, leader of the left-wing Meretz party, accused the prime minister on Sunday of using the election for his political agenda. "Netanyahu uses the Iranian threat whenever he wants to distract the public from the country's real problems," he said. "Rohani's election forces the prime minister to find new political spin."

Iran rejects allegations by western powers that it is developing nuclear weapons technology, saying its program is for energy and medical purposes.