WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama made an unscheduled appearance Thursday with visiting Vice Premier Shaul Mofaz and discussed the possibility of renewing peace negotiations.

Obama spent more than half an hour with Mofaz, who shared with the president his conviction that talks between Israel and the Palestinians would resume soon, though he did not specify a date.

Mofaz, who had been meeting with US National Security Adviser Tom Donilon when the president dropped by, also reviewed the nuclear talks with Iran, the possibility of improving ties with Turkey and upheaval in the region.

Mofaz told a briefing of Israeli journalists after the meeting that he has Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s support in looking to restart talks without preconditions, such as the settlement freeze that Palestinians have insisted be in place for any negotiations to take place.

“There is the will to renew the talks without preconditions,” he said at the briefing.

“I say with very cautious optimism that it will happen in the near future. Whether it will be three weeks or three months, I don’t know.”

Mofaz also indicated that – in his talks at the White House and with other leading US officials over the course of his three-day visit – it is clear the Obama administration sees an opportunity for negotiations with the widening of the governing coalition to include Mofaz’s centrist Kadima party.

Mofaz said he also heard from the Americans a clear intention to prevent Iran from acquiring the bomb.

“I heard a definitive commitment to keeping Iran from becoming nuclear,” he said. “I heard very determined words to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons.”

The vice premier also said that while Iran had succeeded in using the recent rounds of negotiations lead by the P5+1 – US, Germany, Britain, France, Russia and China – to gain several more months to work on its nuclear program, Iran had not succeeded in breaking the international coalition.

Mofaz expressed very little optimism that Tehran would meet the conditions laid out by the P5+1 regarding its nuclear efforts, but stressed that military action should only be used as a last resort and that it should be led by the West.

He said he believed that if Iran made the decision to build a nuclear weapon, that would galvanize the Western countries to act.

But he added that if the Western countries don’t rise to that challenge, “Israel will have to weigh its options.”

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