WASHINGTON – Hosting Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the White House on
Monday, President Barack Obama said the US remains “clear-eyed” going into
direct talks with Iran over its nuclear program, and said it is “absolutely
clear” that words will not be enough to stop Western sanctions – or his
consideration of military action – should Iran choose to continue enriching
“We have to test diplomacy,” Obama said. “We have to see if in
fact they are serious about their willingness to abide by international norms
and international law and international requirements and
Obama said he would insist on the “highest level of
verification” on any deal that may be reached with the Iranians.
sitting beside the president in the Oval Office, Netanyahu urged Obama to
tighten sanctions on the Islamic Republic, and said Israel reserves the right to
wage a unilateral military campaign against Iran’s nuclear facilities should the
words of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani not quickly be followed by
“It is Israel’s firm belief that if Iran continues
to advance its nuclear program during negotiations, the sanctions should be
strengthened,” Netanyahu said.
“Iran must fully dismantle its military
nuclear program,” he added.
Netanyahu believes four steps are required of
an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program for Israel to accept such a deal. Iran
must completely halt uranium enrichment throughout the country’s multiple
facilities; remove all uranium already enriched; close the well-fortified
mountain facility in Qom; and shut down its plutonium plant in
Netanyahu encouraged Obama to demonstrate a “credible threat of
military force” similar to what was seen from the US military throughout a
showdown with Syria’s President Bashar Assad over his chemical weapons program
last month, after 1,400 civilians were gassed by Assad’s military on August
On Iran, “no deal is better than a bad deal, and that’s what our bar
will be,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said after the White House
“Look at last week, at how challenging a handshake was; just
politically,” Psaki said. “We are going into any discussion with eyes wide
At the United Nations General Assembly in New York last week, the
US offered Iran a meeting between the two leaders. That offer was declined by
the Iranians, but Rouhani ultimately requested a phone call with Obama, which
occurred on Friday.
It was the first direct contact between leaders of
the two nations since the Iranian Revolution of 1979.
Later in the
afternoon on Monday, Netanyahu met with Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair
Bob Menendez over coffee, as the upper chamber prepares to consider language of
a new sanctions bill that would no longer exempt firms in allied nations from
buying Iranian oil.
He also met with Secretary of State John Kerry, just
as Vice President Joseph Biden addressed the J Street Conference in Washington
on the Obama administration’s push for a two-state solution.
a pool of reporters at the White House after their meeting, Obama commended
Netanyahu “for entering into good-faith negotiations with the Palestinian
Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on
Monday that Moscow would push for a summit that would establish a zone in the
Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction, after Syria agreed to disown
its chemical-weapons arsenal and days after Rouhani told the UN General Assembly
that Iran would support such a zone.
“Almost four decades of
international efforts to establish nuclear weapons-free zones have regrettably
failed,” he said. “Urgent, practical steps toward the establishment of such a
zone are necessary. The international community has to redouble efforts in
support of the establishment of this zone.”
Rouhani said Iran believes
Israel has stockpiled roughly 200 nuclear bombs, and has called on the Jewish
state to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty “without delay.”