WASHINGTON – Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu emerged from his meeting with US
President Barack Obama Monday saying that Israel’s position on Iran was
“accepted with understanding” in the White House. But the two sides emphasized
different approaches on resolving the issue in public remarks
Obama said that he felt there was still time for diplomacy to
end Iran’s nuclear march, though he reiterated that all options remain on the
table, while Netanyahu stressed that Israel reserved the right to defend itself,
“Israel must have the ability always to defend itself, by
itself, against any threat,” Netanyahu said sitting alongside Obama before their
closed-door 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 point. The two allies
have also differed on what might trigger a strike and how to approach
negotiations with Tehran.
Though the two leaders stressed the partnership
between their countries Monday, differences over Iran were on display in the
carefully crafted statements delivered in the Oval Office.
that Israel’s very purpose 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 fate.”
The statements that were made before the meeting
are understood to have reflected the themes of what was discussed inside as
well, with Netanyahu reiterating Israel’s right to self-defense. It was made
clear, however, that no decision has yet been made on whether or not to launch
an attack on Iran.
In addition, sources said Netanyahu did not ask for
Obama’s red lines on Iran or give an ultimatum about when Israel might attack
despite such speculation ahead of the parley.
At the same time, Netanyahu
joined the countries together in the eyes of Iran, implying that the US and
Israel shared the same threats and interests when it came to preventing Tehran
from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Referencing the Iranian rhetoric calling
the US the “Great 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 together.”
assessment in Jerusalem is that though the countries are well-coordinated on
Iran, they have different capabilities, perspectives and levels of how they
would be harmed by a nuclear weapon.
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
“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 Israel’s security.”
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 Obama also said that
diplomacy was still an option, and he chose this statement to point to American
and Israeli unity, though Netanyahu never mentioned diplomacy in his public
“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.”
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
“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.
This meeting was the first one between Netanyahu and
Obama in which the Palestinian issue was not the central point of discussion,
though it did come up in the roughly 90-minute lunch held by the two sides and
their staffs following the first part of the encounter, a twohour discussion
that included both countries’ national security advisers. The lunch also touched
on Syria, Turkey, Egypt and other regional developments, and Netanyahu at one
point raised the issue of the release of Israeli spy Jonathan
President Shimon Peres, also in Washington for the AIPAC
conference, asked Obama to release Pollard when they met Sunday as well, Peres’s
office said Monday.
Obama began his comments immediately after the press
was ushered into the Oval Office. Both parties’ remarks were to-the-point and
businesslike, free of the banter and small talk that sometimes opens such
meetings between leaders.
Netanyahu looked intently at Obama, seated to
his left, and never took his eyes off him while the president spoke. Obama did
the same during Netanyahu’s remarks and nodded slightly when Netanyahu referred
to Israel’s right to defend itself by itself.
At the end of the
statements, when it was difficult for someone not trained in understanding body
language to interpret the meaning of their posture, they shook hands, with the
picture of George Washington on the wall looking down at them.
Israeli officials observed the press event from the back of the Oval Office,
including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and US Ambassador to Israel Dan
Shapiro. The Israeli contingent included Israel’s Ambassador to the US Michael
Oren and several Netanyahu aides.
At the beginning of his comments,
Netanyahu thanked the president for the “warm hospitality” shown to him and his
The White House has been accused of not showing proper hospitality
to the prime minister 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, and aides described a friendly and cordial lunch
that included the wife of Netanyahu adviser Yochanan Locker being honored on her
In a symbolic gesture, Netanyahu presented Obama with a gift of
a megila reciting the Jewish escape from destruction at the hands of a Persian
tyrant, just two days before the Purim holiday commemorating that
Netanyahu said that Israel’s positions “were received with
understanding” in the White House following the meeting.
During his White
House remarks, Netanyahu also praised Obama’s “strong speech” at AIPAC on
Netanyahu will speak to the 13,000-plus conference-goers late
Monday evening after a meeting with US Defense Secretary Leon
Panetta.Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.