Obama to rabbis: No 'set of conditions' on Iran

US president tells US rabbis that Netanyahu too would not set conditions, as "no leader ties his hands."

By HILARY LEILA KRIEGER, JERUSALEM POST CORRESPOND
September 15, 2012 02:28
3 minute read.
US President Obama at White House Rose Garden

US President Obama speaks in White House Rose Garden 370. (photo credit: Yuri Gripas / Reuters)

 
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WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama told 1,200 American rabbis Friday via a conference call that he was not willing to impose a “set of conditions” on how he would handle Iran – according to participants on the call.

Obama’s comments come amid tensions between the US and Israel in recent days on whether America would set red lines for when it would take military action if Tehran didn’t halt its nuclear activities.

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Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has been pushing for such deadlines to be made clear.

On the call, though, Obama also said that Netanyahu himself would not put in place such conditions, as “no leader ties his hands.”

Obama also said there was “no space” between the US and Israel on Iran, and that Iran’s leaders should not doubt American resolve or Israel’s right to defend itself, participants said.

While Obama said that “there may come a time when we have to take military action,” he stressed that there was still time for diplomacy, and said the dual track approach emphasizing sanctions was currently working as Iran felt an increasing economic crunch.

But he added, “It won’t be easy.”

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He had a similar message on the Arab Spring, which he also said wouldn’t be easy.

In addition, as anti-American riots swirled in the Middle East, Obama pointed to “strains of extremism” in Islam, including anti-Semitism, and that the US rejected all bigotry.

In an interview with Foreign Policy’s National Security Channel, US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta dismissed Netanyahu’s engagement of Obama on the issue of preemption, saying, “The fact is [that] presidents of the United States, prime ministers of Israel or any other country – leaders of these countries don’t have, you know, a bunch of little red lines that determine their decisions.”

Netanyahu is attempting to pin US Obama into a corner by demanding US president delineate “little red lines” which if passed would prompt US military action against Iran's nuclear facilities, Panetta claimed Friday night.

“What they have,” Panetta asserted “are facts that are presented to them about what a country is up to, and then they weigh what kind of action is needed to be taken in order to deal with that situation. I mean, that’s the real world. Red lines are kind of political arguments that are used to try to put people in a corner.”

Despite the apparent friction between the US and Israel over Iran, Panetta dismissed the notion of a rupture in relations between the two countries.

“Let’s just say, when you have friends like Israel you engage in vigorous debates about how you confront these issues,” he said. “And that’s what's going on.”

Nathan Diament, the Orthodox Union’s director of public policy, said that “Given the events of the last weeks, [Obama’s] strong and clear statement of his commitment to thwarting Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons was very important,” said .

Conservative Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt noted Obama’s emphasis on dealing with Iran and the US-Israel relationship.

“It seemed to me he wanted to go out of his way to emphasize the cooperation and how seriously the threat is taken,” he said.

Another Conservative rabbi, Julie Shonfeld, head of the movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, introduced the call, which was held with major Jewish streams in honor of Rosh Hashana.

Obama also released a Rosh Hashana video greeting Thursday night in which he said that “one of the most important duties we have during this period is the act of reconciliation.”

Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.

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