Saturday, September 29, 2012

Israel PM in 'full agreement' with US on Iran

Binyamin Netanyahu eases tensions with White House in phone call with American leader following notable speech at UN

Last Modified: 28 Sep 2012 23:08

Obama and Netanyahu smoothe relations after Israeli leader used prop during speech at General Assembly [Getty]
The US president and the Israeli prime minister have expressed agreement on the goal of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, the White House said.
Barack Obama and Binyamin Netanyahu sought on Friday to ease tensions over how to deal with Iran's nuclear programme, presenting a show of solidarity over how to confront Tehran.
Obama, widely seen as having snubbed Netanyahu by not meeting face-to-face during the annual UN gathering, spoke instead by phone to the Israeli leader amid signs of movement toward a truce in their war of words.
Netanyahu used his UN speech a day earlier to keep pressure on Washington to set a "clear red line" for Tehran.
But in a softening of his approach, he signaled that no Israeli attack on Iran was imminent before the November 6 US presidential election.
With an eye to the close US presidential race, Netanyahu also fielded a call during his New York visit from Obama's
Republican rival, Mitt Romney, who has accused the president of being too hard on a close US ally and not tough enough on Iran.
'Shared goal'
Obama's aides believe he has played his cards right with Netanyahu, with whom the president has had a
notoriously testy relationship.
In-depth coverage of a growing regional debate 
Netanyahu's strident complaints about US policy on Iran spurred a backlash at home and in the US media for seeming to meddle in American politics.
In recent days, the Israelis have sought to dial down the rhetoric, signalling that they would not blindside Washington with a unilateral attack on Iran any time soon.
"The two leaders underscored that they are in full agreement on the shared goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon," the White House said in a summary of their 20-minute phone conversation.
The White House stopped short of saying Obama had given any ground on his resistance to issuing an ultimatum to Tehran, as Netanyahu has repeatedly demanded.
"It was a good conversation. They discussed all the issues," said a senior Israeli official.
An Obama aide went further, saying, "The temperature is lower than it had been."
'Military action'
Netanyahu dramatically ramped up pressure on Obama earlier this month when he insisted that the United States did not have a "moral right" to hold Israel back from taking action against Iran because Washington had not set its own limits on Tehran's nuclear developments.
Obama's aides were furious that Netanyahu was trying to put pressure on the president in the midst of the election campaign and refused to budge on the red line issue despite the risk of alienating pro-Israel voters in election battleground states like Florida and Ohio.
In-depth coverage of the US presidential election
At the same time, Israeli officials - mindful of the danger of antagonising the Jewish state's main ally and military aid
provider - moved into damage-control mode.
Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, flew back for a short visit to Jerusalem last weekend, during
which he urged Netanyahu to tone down public statements that could be construed as interfering in the US election or
supporting Romney, according to sources in the Jewish community in Washington.
The Israeli desire to defuse the crisis may also have reflected an interpretation of recent US opinion polls showing
a widening of Obama's lead over Romney, who has suffered a series of campaign stumbles.
Romney, speaking to reporters on his campaign plane, said he and Netanyahu agreed that Iran must be denied nuclear
capabilities but did not agree on specific "red lines" to confront Tehran.
"I do not believe in the final analysis we will have to use military action," Romney said. "I certainly hope we don't have
to. I can't take that action off the table."
'Final stage'
In his UN speech, Netanyahu held up a cartoon-like drawing of a bomb with a fuse and literally drew a red line just below a label reading "final stage", in which Iran would supposedly be 90 per cent along the path to having weapons-grade material.
Nevertheless, his warning that Iran would be on the brink of developing a nuclear weapon in less than a year was widely interpreted as some giving breathing space to Obama, who has urged more time for sanctions and diplomacy to work.
Speaking ahead of a meeting with his Canadian counterpart on Friday, Netanyahu said Iran's uranium enrichment was the "only discernible and vulnerable part of their nuclear programme".
"I tried to say something yesterday that I think reverberates now around the world," he said
Netanyahu referred on Thursday to a spring or summer 2013 time frame for Iran to complete the next stage of uranium enrichment. Iran denies it is seeking to build nuclear weaponry.
Netanyahu's praise for Obama's stern words for Iran in the US president's own UN speech on Tuesday - although it lacked any specific ultimatum - was also seen as a sign that the Israeli leader wanted a ceasefire in the unusually public dispute with Washington.
"I think we are moving in a direction where the differences that were there, which were always tactical and not strategic, are in fact being managed at this point," Dennis Ross, Obama's former Middle East adviser, told MSNBC.

Iran's envoy reacting to Israeli PM's remarks says his country is "strong enough" and "reserves full right" to hit back. ( 28-Sep-2012 )

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