Netanyahu and Obama 390.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Jason Reed)
WASHINGTON – At the start of a crucial White House meeting
Monday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu stressed that Israel reserved the right to defend itself from
“Israel must have
the ability, always, to defend itself, by itself, against any threat,” Netanyahu
said sitting alongside US President Barack Obama in the Oval Office before their
private consultations. “Israel has the right, the sovereign
right, to make its own decisions.”
Leading into a meeting expected
to focus overwhelmingly on Iran, the Obama administration had sent repeated
signals that it did not want to see Israel take military action at this
Netanyahu, however, said that
Israel’s raison d'être was to
restore to the Jewish people control over their destiny and that he as prime
minister would “ensure that Israel remains the master of its
At the same time, he joined the
countries together in the eyes of Iran, implying that the US and Israel shared the same threats and interests when
it comes to preventing Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Referencing the Iranian rhetoric
calling the US the “Big
Satan” and Israel the “Little Satan,” Netanyahu
said that, “For them, we are you and you are us.”
And he added the Iranians were
correct in that linkage: “Israel and America stand
Obama also underscored the strong
bond between the countries in his comments during their nine-minute press
appearance ahead of their meeting, in which no questions were allowed.
“Our commitment to the security
of Israel is rock solid,” Obama said,
echoing his remarks from his address to the American Israel Public Affairs
Committee Sunday night. “The United
States will always have Israel's back when it comes to
He also repeated that his policy was not containment but
preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons,
and that “when I say all options are at the table, I mean it.”
But he also said that diplomacy was still an option, and chose
this statement to point to American and Israeli unity.
“Both the prime minister and I
prefer to resolve this diplomatically,” Obama said. “We do believe that there is
still a window that allows for a diplomatic resolution.”
Obama offered assurances that the
two countries would continue to be in “constant and close consultation” during
what he expected would be “a series of difficult months.”
He also noted that the tough
climate in the Middle East complicated
prospects for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, but that it continued to
be an important effort.
“It is a very difficult thing to
do in light of the context right now, but I know that the prime minister remains
committed to trying to achieve that,” he said.
Netanyahu thanked the president
for his hospitality at the beginning of his comments, describing the “warm
hospitality” shown to him and his staff.
The White House has been accused
of not showing proper hospitality to the PM at some of the other eight meetings
between the two leaders, but on this occasion Netanyahu is being hosted at the
official White House guest house, Blair House.
Netanyahu also praised Obama’s
“strong speech” at AIPAC on Sunday. Netanyahu will be speaking to the
13,000-plus conference-goers late Monday evening.