Obama stands by Ne­tanyahu

Em­pha­sizes need for cau­tion by Is­rael re­gard­ing strike on Iran

The Washington Times Daily - - Politics - BY SU­SAN CRAB­TREE

In a show of sol­i­dar­ity, Pres­i­dent Obama sat down with Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu on Mon­day to re­as­sure him that the U.S. would al­ways be there for Is­rael, even as he con­tin­ued to try to tamp down talk of a mil­i­tary strike against Iran.

Mr. Obama and Mr. Ne­tanyahu met in the Oval Of­fice for sen­si­tive talks amid grow­ing con­cerns about Tehran’s nu­clear pro­gram and af­ter weeks of spec­u­la­tion that Is­rael might go it alone and launch a mil­i­tary strike on Iran, which has vowed to wipe Is­rael off the map.

The pres­i­dent stressed his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ”un­break­able” com­mit­ment to Is­rael, not­ing the two coun­tries’ mu­tual in­ter­est in pre­vent­ing Iran from ob­tain­ing a nu­clear weapon. He also took a swipe at Re­pub­li­can pres­i­den­tial con­tenders who have crit­i­cized his ap­proach to Iran and ac­cused him of not be­ing as pro-is­rael as pre­vi­ous pres­i­dents.

“Our com­mit­ment to the se­cu­rity of Is­rael is rock solid,” Mr. Obama told re­porters at the top of the meet­ing. “The United States will al­ways have Is­rael’s back.”

Mr. Obama also said there is no day­light be­tween his and Mr. Ne­tanyahu’s ap­proach, say­ing both men want to solve the is­sues with Iran diplo­mat­i­cally but are keep­ing all op­tions on the ta­ble.

“When I say all op­tions are at the ta­ble, I mean it,” Mr. Obama said. “Hav­ing said that, I know that both the prime min­is­ter and I pre­fer to re­solve this diplo­mat­i­cally. We un­der­stand the costs of any mil­i­tary ac­tion. And I want to as­sure both the Amer­i­can peo­ple and the Is­raeli peo­ple that we are in con­stant and close con­sul­ta­tion.”

Mr. Ne­tanyahu told Mr. Obama that “Is­rael and Amer­ica stand to­gether,” but he also seemed to push back a bit on the is­sue of whether Is­rael would take mil­i­tary ac­tion, not­ing that his coun­try must be the “mas­ter of its fate.”

“Is­rael must have the abil­ity al­ways to de­fend it­self, by it­self, against any threat,” Mr. Ne­tanyahu said in brief but pas­sion­ate com­ments at the start of the meet­ing. “Af­ter all, that is the very pur­pose of the Jewish state, to re­store to the Jewish peo­ple con­trol over our destiny.”

The two lead­ers took no ques­tions from re­porters and kept their re­marks to 10 min­utes be­fore aides ush­ered cam­eras out the door, likely an ef­fort to keep both lead­ers, who have had a strained re­la­tion­ship in the past, on script dur­ing del­i­cate dis­cus­sions about Iran.

Un­like their first meet­ing in May 2009 or their testy in­ter­ac­tion last year at a news con­fer­ence in the Oval Of­fice, Mr. Ne­tanyahu didn’t look sur­prised or an­gry at any­thing the pres­i­dent said dur­ing the state­ments pre­ced­ing their meet­ing.

In a speech to the pro-is­rael lobby group Amer­i­can Is­rael Public Af­fairs Com­mit­tee on Sun­day, Mr. Obama ar­gued that “loose talk” of war by Is­raelis and pro-is­rael hawks in the U.S. was only aid­ing Iran. He urged Is­rael and its sup­port­ers to al­low for more time for sanc­tions to work be­fore us­ing mil­i­tary ac­tion.

Washington fears that a pre-emp­tive strike from Is­rael could prompt a fierce re­ac­tion from Iran and stoke more tur­moil in the Mid­dle East and en­snare the U.S. in an­other war in the re­gion. There are also con­cerns that Is­rael isn’t ca­pa­ble of de­stroy­ing Iran’s un­der­ground nu­clear fa­cil­i­ties, and thus any at­tack would only set back the pro­gram a few years.

Re­pub­li­can lead­ers, in­clud­ing pres­i­den­tial con­tender Newt Gin­grich, were more ex­plicit on Mon­day in ex­press­ing sup­port for the Is­raelis.

The As­so­ci­ated Press re­ported that Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Mitch Mccon­nell, Ken­tucky Re­pub­li­can, said the U.S. must be pre­pared to use “over­whelm­ing force” to en­sure that Iran does not ob­tain nu­clear weapons.

“If Iran, at any time, be­gins to en­rich uranium to weapons-grade level, or de­cides to go for­ward with a weapons pro­gram, then the United States will use over­whelm­ing force to end that pro­gram,” Mr. Mccon­nell said, ac­cord­ing to an ad­vanced text of the speech.

Mr Gin­grich, on the cam­paign trail in Ten­nessee on Mon­day, said the U.S. should de­clare war if Iran at­tempts to close the Straits of Hor­muz, through which 20 per­cent of the world’s oil ex­ports pass.

“We should in­di­cate calmly and de­ci­sively that any threat to close the Straits of Hor­muz would be con­sid­ered an act of war, and we will elim­i­nate the gov­ern­ment of Iran,” Mr. Gin­grich said.

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