POSTED: Tuesday, October 1, 2013 - 7:08pm
UPDATED: Thursday, October 10, 2013 - 2:02pm
(CNN) -- In back-to-back speeches Tuesday to the U.N. General Assembly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, of seeking to obtain a nuclear weapon, and the Iranian representative insisted that Tehran's nuclear program was intended solely for peaceful purposes.
Rouhani, whose demeanor has been more moderate than that of his predecessor since he took office in August, is "a wolf in sheep's clothing, a wolf who thinks he can pull the wool over the eyes of the international community," Netanyahu said.
Western leaders have expressed optimism about Iran's more moderate tone under Rouhani, whose recent comments have raised hopes that a deal could be struck over the Middle Eastern nation's nuclear program.
But Netanyahu urged world leaders not to be duped by Rouhani, calling him a "loyal servant" to the Islamic regime, which he said "executes political dissidents by the hundreds" and jails them by the thousands.
"It's not hard to find evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapons program," Netanyahu said. "It's hard to find evidence that Iran doesn't have a nuclear weapons program."
Netanyahu said that, even since Rouhani assumed office, "this vast and feverish effort has continued unabated."
Rouhani "thinks he can have his yellowcake and eat it, too," Netanyahu said in a reference to the raw uranium ore that can be processed into nuclear weapons.
International sanctions have left Iran "on the ropes," the Israeli prime minister told the world body, whose Iranian representative was not present. He called for the sanctions to remain in place to force Iran to halt its nuclear aspirations.
"We all want to give diplomacy with Iran a chance to succeed," he said. "But when it comes to Iran, the greater the pressure, the greater the chance."
But the Iranian representative rejected Netanyahu's accusations, calling them "inflammatory" and "unfounded."
Iran "has an inalienable right to peaceful nuclear energy" and is fully committed to its nonproliferation obligations," said Khodadad Seifi, counselor for Iran's U.N. mission.
"All Iranian nuclear activities are -- and have always been -- exclusively for peaceful purposes," he said, adding that Tehran is cooperating with the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and that its work is carried out under surveillance cameras.
"There is no single acceptable reason to possess nuclear weapons, but there are many agreeable reasons to abolish them all," he said.
He called further for "respectful" negotiations. "Iran stands ready to ensure that its nuclear program will continue to remain exclusively peaceful," he said.
Seifi also called for the international community to annul the sanctions that have crippled the nation's economy.
And he noted that Israel, unlike Iran, has not signed the nonproliferation treaty. "Israel is the only one in the region that possesses all types of weapons of mass destruction but is not party to any of the treaties banning them," he said.
And he warned Netanyahu that Tehran is capable of defending itself if Jerusalem's war of words goes beyond vitriol. "The prime minister had better not even think about attacking Iran, let alone planning for that," he said.