EDITH M. LEDERER
UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu played the spoiler Tuesday to Iran's attempts to ease relations with the West, calling the Iranian leader "a wolf in sheep's clothing" and declaring that Israel will do whatever it takes to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons, even if it has to stand alone.
Speaking to world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly, Netanyahu gave a point-by-point rebuttal of President Hassan Rouhani's speech last week signaling a willingness to discuss Iran's disputed nuclear program.
Accusing Rouhani of a "charm offensive" aimed at getting the West to lift crippling sanctions, Netanyahu portrayed him as "a loyal servant of the regime" who has done nothing to stop his country's nuclear program since he took office in June.
Rouhani, he added, must have known about terrorist attacks carried out by Iranian agents in Argentina, Saudi Arabia and Berlin in the 1990s because he was national security adviser at the time.
Israel's hope for the future is challenged "by a nuclear-armed Iran that seeks our destruction," the Israeli leader said.
A year ago at the General Assembly, Netanyahu held up a drawing of a spherical bomb with a sputtering fuse, then pulled out a red marker and drew a line across what he said was the threshold Iran was fast approaching and which Israel would not tolerate -- 90 percent of the uranium enrichment needed to make an atomic bomb.
"Iran has been very careful not to cross that line," Netanyahu said Tuesday. "But Iran is positioning itself to race across that line in the future at a time of its choosing."
"I wish I could believe Rouhani, but I don't because facts are stubborn things, and the facts are that Iran's savage record flatly contradicts Rouhani's soothing rhetoric."
He pointed to Iran's continuing enrichment of uranium to a 20-percent level, its addition of thousands of new centrifuges and its development of intercontinental ballistic missiles "whose sole purpose is to deliver nuclear warheads" that the U.S. says will be capable of reaching New York in three or four years.
"Israel will never acquiesce to nuclear arms in the hands of a rogue regime that repeatedly promises to wipe us off the map," Netanyahu declared. "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."
After his address, Netanyahu, like Rouhani, received warm applause but Iran's seat in the assembly chamber was empty, as it continued its longstanding boycott of Israeli speeches.
Iran exercised its right of reply later, with Khodadad Seifi, a deputy ambassador to Iran's U.N. mission, accusing Netanyahu of "saber rattling" and warning that he should "avoid miscalculation."
"Iran's centuries-old policy of non-aggression must not be interpreted as its inability to defend itself," Seifi said. "The Israeli prime minister had better not even think about attacking Iran, let alone planning for that."
He reiterated Iran's readiness to engage in "meaningful, time-bound and result-oriented negotiations" and "to ensure that its nuclear program will continue to remain exclusively peaceful."
Earlier, Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said Netanyahu's nature was "to lie."
"Over the past 22 years ... Israel has been saying Iran will have nuclear arms in six months," said Zarif, speaking in New York in an interview broadcast on Iranian state TV. "The continuation of this game, in fact, is based on lying, deception, incitement and harassment."
At the White House, press secretary Jay Carney said Netanyahu's skepticism about Iran and its intentions is "entirely justifiable" because until recently Iran's leadership "was pledging to annihilate Israel."
The U.S. shares Israel's goal of keeping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, Carney said. He stressed that President Barack Obama will be "very firm" on demanding verifiable, transparent action to ensure that Iran has given up its nuclear weapons ambitions.
Netanyahu warned that a nuclear-armed Iran would have a choke-hold on the world's main energy supplies.
"It would trigger nuclear proliferation throughout the Middle East, turning the most unstable part of the planet into a nuclear tinderbox. And for the first time in history, it would make the specter of nuclear terrorism a clear and present danger," the Israeli leader said.
Netanyahu said the greater the pressure, the greater the chance for diplomacy to succeed. The only diplomatic solution, he said, is one that requires Iran to completely dismantle its nuclear weapons program and prevents it from starting one in the future.