UNITED NATIONS -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged world leaders Tuesday not to trust Iran's seemingly kinder, gentler president, saying Hasan Rouhani smiles often, but is not sincere when he says he does not seek a nuclear weapon.
"Iran is not building a peaceful nuclear program," said Netanyahu, who was the last speaker at the annual UN General Assembly. "Iran is developing a nuclear weapon."
Netanyahu said the world must keep the pressure on Iran through continued sanctions and the threat of military force, and called Rouhani "a wolf in sheep's clothing" despite the Iranian president's overtures to the West for the past several weeks.
"I wish I could believe Rouhani, but I don't," Netanyahu said, adding that Iran's record of taking steps that could lead to nuclear weapons -- such as covertly building an underground facility in Natanz a decade ago -- contradicts Rouhani's rhetoric that the nuclear program is for civil energy purposes. "Because facts are stubborn things."
Netanyahu recommended that the world's nations keep sanctions in place and lift them only when Iran's program is dismantled. Analysts have said sanctions imposed by the UN, the United States and other countries have crippled Iran's economy. That is the reason why a once-defiant Iran now appears so compliant, Netanyahu said.
"Distrust, dismantle and verify," Netanyahu said, borrowing a phrase from President Ronald Reagan, who famously said in reference to the former Soviet Union, "Trust, but verify."
Netanyahu's call to be wary of Iran's motives comes a week after a high-level meeting at the UN in which Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met with counterparts from the United States, Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany to renounce nuclear weapons and allow rigorous inspections to take place at Iran's facilities.
After that meeting, Zarif assured the world that Iran wanted nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, but also wanted sanctions lifted in exchange for agreeing to operate under intense scrutiny.
Netanyahu's warning in a half-hour speech also follows the historic phone call between Rouhani and President Barack Obama, an exchange that came amid widespread speculation that the two leaders would exchange a handshake during the General Assembly.
The two countries have had chilly relations since the U.S.-backed shah of Iran was ovethrown in 1979 and 52 U.S. hostages subsequently were taken and held for 444 days.
Netanyahu added that Israel will single-handedly prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb, though Obama in his address to the United Nations last week also pledged to prevent such an event.
"I want there to be no confusion on this point," Netanyahu said. "Israel will not allow Iran to get nuclear weapons. If Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel will stand alone."