Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said today he won’t go to the White House next week demanding that President Barack Obama accept his terms for whether to take military action against Iran.
“I haven’t set down red lines and I will not set down red lines for the United States,” Netanyahu told reporters in Ottawa after a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. “I want to reserve Israel’s freedom to maneuver in light of threats, every country would demand that.”
Tensions have increased between the U.S. and Israel over how to deal with Iran, as one U.S. official after another has called for additional time to let new, more severe sanctions have an impact. Israeli leaders have warned publicly that time is running out for a military strike that could stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
Netanyahu, who will spend the next two days in Ottawa before going to Washington to meet with Obama, said the world should avoid falling into a “trap” set by Iran where the country would agree to talks about its nuclear program while still developing arms.
“The warnings that I and others have been giving over the years will materialize unless Iran is stopped,” Netanyahu said at a news conference with Harper in the Parliament buildings. “All options should be left on the table.”
Obama, in an interview published today in the Atlantic magazine, said Iran can’t be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon and the U.S. will do what’s necessary. He repeated that the U.S. is leaving all options open and that the ultimate option is the “military component.”
“I don’t bluff,” Obama said of a U.S. willingness to use military action if needed. “I also don’t, as a matter of sound policy, go around advertising exactly what our intentions are.”
He rejected any policy that would seek to contain a nuclear-armed Iran and warned that it would trigger an arms race in the region. Still, he said that sanctions are having an effect and may force Iran’s government to give up pursuing nuclear arms.
The U.S. and the European Union tightened economic sanctions following a November 2011 report by United Nations inspectors that Iran’s nuclear research program may include pursuing the capability to build a nuclear weapon. It said there was evidence Iran was working on a weapon designed to fit on a missile that could reach Israel and Europe. Iran says its nuclear program is for civilian energy and medical research.
Robert Gallucci, a former special envoy on weapons proliferation and assistant secretary of state in President Bill Clinton’s administration, said today he believes there is “no ambiguity” that Iran has a nuclear weapons program and that ultimately it cannot be stopped without military action.
“There’s an enrichment program; there is a plutonium program,” Gallucci, now president of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, said at a forum on nuclear rogue states, held at the Brookings Institution, a policy center in Washington. “This is a nuclear weapons program.”
Netanyahu -- speaking in Hebrew and English as he stood beside Harper, who spoke in English and French -- laid out three steps by Iran that he said would preclude an Israeli attack: Dismantling its underground nuclear facility in Qom, stopping uranium enrichment and disposing of all enriched material other that what would be used to make medical isotopes or generate atomic power.
Harper, known for his strong support of Israel, endorsed Netanyahu’s stance toward Iran. Harper also said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must stop killing his countrymen and leave office.
“We will keep working with the international community to pressure the Iranian regime to abandon its nuclear weapons program, to immediately allow international inspectors of all its nuclear sites and to comply with the United Nations’ Security Council resolutions,” Harper said.
In the Atlantic article, Obama also said he was puzzled over skepticism about his concern for Israel’s security.
“Why is it that despite me never failing to support Israel on every single problem that they’ve had over the last three years, that there are still questions about that?” Obama asked interviewer Jeffrey Goldberg.
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