Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was on NBC’s Meet The Press this morning with David Gregory. He said that those who believe that Iran having a nuclear weapon would stabilize the Middle East “set a new standard for human stupidity.” He also said there is a “tinderbox of hatred” present in the Middle East. The video of the entire Benjamin Netanyahu interview is above, and the full transcript below:
David Gregory: Prime Minister welcome back to Meet the Press.
Benjamin Netanyahu: Thank you. Good to be with you, David.
Gregory: I want to talk specifically before we get to the questions of what’s happening more broadly in the middle east and the turmoil there this week about the threat from Iran. you spoke about that this week, and this question of whether Israel has to take matters into its own hands. and you launched pretty pointed criticism at the united states. i want to play a portion of what you said.
Netanyahu (video clip): “The world tells Israel, wait. there’s still time. and I say, wait for what? Wait until when? Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel.
Gregory: Prime Minister, I want to understand very clearly what your views are. is it your view that the Obama administration is either unwilling or unable to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear power?
Netanyahu: First of all, President Obama and the U.S. administration have repeatedly said that Israel has the right to act by itself against any threat to defend itself. And I think that that remains our position. And for me, the issue is — as the prime minister of a country that is threatened with annihilation with a regime that is racing a brutal regime in Tehran that is racing to develop nuclear bombs for that end, obviously, we cannot delegate the job of stopping Iran, if all else fails, to someone else. That was the main point that i was saying there. It was directed at the general international community. A lot of leaders calling me telling me, don’t do it. it’s not necessary. You know, the danger of acting is much greater than not acting. and I always say the danger of not acting in time is much greater because Iran with nuclear weapons would mean that the kind of fanaticism that you see storming your embassies would have a nuclear weapon. don’t let these fanatics have nuclear weapons.
Gregory: Prime Minister, you were upset with this administration. The Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had said there were no deadlines by this administration in terms of what Iran should or shouldn’t do by a date certain. That’s what led to those remarks. So my question still stands. Is it your view that this administration is either unwilling or unable to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon?
Netanyahu: No. President Obama has said that he’s determined to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons, and I appreciate that. And I respect that. I think implicit in that is that if you’re determined to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons, it means you’ll act before they get nuclear weapons. I just think that it’s important to communicate to Iran that there is a line that they won’t cross. I think a red line in this case works to reduce the chances, to reduce the need, for military action because once the Iranians understand that there’s no – there’s a line that they can’t cross, they are not likely to cross it. When President Kennedy set a red line in the Cuban Missile Crisis, he was criticized. But it turns out it didn’t bring war, it pushed war back and probably purchased decades of peace with the Soviet Union. Conversely, where there was no American red line set, Saddam Hussein invade Kuwait, and maybe that war could have been avoided. I think as they get closer and closer and closer to the achievement of weapons grade material, and they are very close, they are six months away from being about 90% of having the enriched uranium for an atom bomb, I think you have to place that red line before them now, before it’s too later, that was the point I was making.
Gregory: As a prime minister of Israel, has Iran crossed your red line?
Netanyahu: Well, the way I would say it David, is they are in the red zone. You know, they are in the last 20 yards, and you can’t let them cross the goal line. You can’t let them score a touchdown because that would have unbelievable consequences, grievous consequences, for the peace and security of us all. For the world really.
Gregory: That seems to be a newer development from your way of thinking, that they are now in a red zone, and you to use the sports metaphor, you won’t let them cross the goal line. Is Israel closer to taking action into its own hands?
Netanyahu: We always reserve the right to act, but I think that if we are able to coordinate together a common position, we increase the chances that neither one of us will have to act. Iran is very cognizant of the fact of its degrees of freedom, and not only have they not stopped, they are actually rushing forward with their enrichment program. And I think it’s very important to make it clear to them that they can’t just proceed with impunity.
Gregory: Your criticism, your calling on President Obama to set this red line, comes in the middle of a heated presidential campaign. You understand the American political system very well, you’re very sophisticated in that regard. In your view, would Governor Mitt Romney as President Romney make Israel safer? Would he take a harder line against Iran than President Obama in your judgment?
Netanyahu: I’m not going to be drawn into the American election, and what’s guiding my statements is not the American political calendar, but the Iranian nuclear calendar. You know, if they stop spinning the centrifuges and took time out for the American elections, I wouldn’t have to talk and I wouldn’t have to raise the issue. But as the Prime Minister of Israel, knowing that this country committed to our destruction is getting closer to the goal of having weapons of mass destruction, then I speak out. And it’s really not a partisan political issue. And I think it’s important for anyone who’s the President of the United States to be in that position of preventing Iran from having this nuclear weapon and nuclear weapons capability. And I’m talking to the President. I just talked to him the other day. We are in close consultation trying to prevent that. It’s really not a partisan issue. It’s a policy issue, not a partisan issue.
Gregory: You have known Mitt Romney a long time. Tell me if you disagree. The reality is that Governor Romney said this week that his position is very much the same as President Obama. They are both committed to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Not just as an impartial observer, but as the Prime Minister of Israel, do you agree with that, that both the President and his challenger have the same view with regard to preventing Iran from going nuclear?
Netanyahu: I have no doubt they are equally committed to preventing that. It’s a vital American interest. This isn’t the issue. We are united on this across the board.
Gregory: Why can’t Iran be contained just as the Soviet Union was? There are those in your country and in the United States that believe that a containment strategy would actually work.
Netanyahu: I think Iran is very different. They put their zealotry above their survival. They have suicide bombers all over the place. I wouldn’t rely on their rationality. Since the advent of nuclear weapons you had countries that had access to nuclear weapons who always made a careful calculation of cost and benefit. But Iran is guided by a leadership with unbelievable fanaticism. It’s the same fanaticism that you see storming your embassies today. Do you want these fanatics to have nuclear weapons? I mean, I heard some people suggest David – I actually read this in the American press, that they said, “well you know, if you take action, that’s a lot worse than having Iran with nuclear weapons.” Some have even said that Iran with nuclear weapons would stabilize the Middle East. Stabilize the Middle East! I think the people who say this have set a new standard for human stupidity. We have to stop them. Don’t rely on containment. It would be wrong. It would be a grave, grave mistake. Don’t let these fanatics have nuclear weapons. It’s terrible for Israel, and it’s terrible for America. It’s terrible for the world.
Gregory: Prime Minister, one more question on the American election. You have been accused this week by pundits in this country of trying to interfere in this presidential election, siding with the Governor Mitt Romney. Now, Governor Romney for a year, and he said it in his convention speech, has said, quote, “President Obama has thrown allies like Israel under the bus.” Do you agree or disagree with Governor Romney’s charge? It’s a serious charge.
Netanyahu: Well you’re trying to get me into the American election, and I’m not going to do that. The relationship between Israel and the United States is a bond of – just a very powerful bond. It was, it is, and will be, and will continue to be. And I can tell you there’s no one – there’s no leader in the world who’s more appreciative than me of the strength of this alliance. It’s very strong. There’s no one in Israel who appreciates more than me the importance of American support for Israel. It’s not a partisan issue. If fact, we cherish the bipartisan support of Democrats and Republicans alike. This is critical for us.
Gregory: But Prime Minister with respect, if I may just interrupt you -
Netanyahu: It is critical that we take -
Gregory: This is an important point because you say you don’t want to interfere in the election. There are tens of millions of Americans watching that speech, who hear that rhetoric, hear that charge, and may not understand the complexity of this issue. You are the leader of the Jewish people. You say this is not a partisan issue. You get billions of dollars from direct foreign investments in this country. Hundreds of millions of dollars from Americans, Jews and Christians alike. It seems to me for you to remain silent on whether this administration has thrown Israel under the bus is tantamount to agreeing with the sentiment. So where do you come down on that specific charge against President Obama?
Netanyahu: There you go again David, trying to draw me into something that is not the case and is not my position. My position is that we have strong cooperation and we continue to cooperate with the best of allies, and Israel is the one reliable ally of the United States in the Middle East.
Gregory: President Obama has not thrown Israel under the bus?
Netanyahu: So it’s – there’s no bus, and we’re not going to get into that discussion, except to say one thing. We have a strong alliance, and we’re going to continue to have a strong alliance. I think the important question is where does the – the only bus that is really important is the Iranian nuclear bus. That’s the one that we have to derail. And that’s my interest. That’s my only interest.
Gregory: Final question on the broader Middle East and what we’re seeing this week. This anti-American and indeed anti-Israeli rage throughout the Middle East attacking our embassy, killing a United States ambassador as you well know. What has been unleashed and what can the United States and its allies specifically do to contain it?
Netanyahu: Well, look, I think people focus on the spark, and the spark of reprehensible and irresponsible film is a spark, but it doesn’t explain anything. It doesn’t explain 9/11. It doesn’t explain the decades of animosity and grievances that go back centuries. If fact, there’s the a tinder box of hatred here. There’s a virulent strain of Islam that takes moderate Muslims and Arabs and attacks them first, but seeks to deprive all of us of the basic values that we have. They are against human rights. They are against the rights of women. They are against freedom of religion. They are against freedom of speech and freedom of religion. They are against all the things that we value. They are against tolerance, pluralism, and against freedom. And they view not your policies, but you, the very existence of the United States, and its values, and by extension Israel, they view that as an intolerable crime. And we have to understand that, and we have to deal with it. And we have to be in close support because in this vast expanse of land, you can understand why they are so antagonistic to us. Because for them, we are you, and you are us, and at least on this point they’re right.
Gregory: Finally Prime Minister, did you feel snubbed not getting a face-to-face meeting with President Obama in New York during the upcoming U.N. meetings? Would you like to have that face-to-face encounter? Would it be helpful to your relationship at this point?
Netanyahu: I’m always pleased and happy to have a conversation with President Obama. I think he has met with me more than any other leader in the world and I appreciate that. We’ve had our discussions, our schedules on this visit doesn’t work out. I come to New York and he leaves New York, but we continue in close consultations. We have urgent business, Israel and America, to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. I think it’s important to delineate a red line for Iran so we’re not faced with a conundrum of what to do if we don’t place a red line and they just proceed to the bomb.