Obama, PM reaffirm 'united determination' on Iran

Phone call between Netanyahu, US president follows announcement that Obama will not meet PM when he's in New York for UNGA meet.

US President Obama with PM Netanyahu at White House 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)
US President Obama with PM Netanyahu at White House 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)
US President Barack Obama spoke to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for an hour Tuesday night about Iran and other security issues, the White House announced.
“President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu reaffirmed that they are united in their determination to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and agreed to continue their close consultations going forward,” the White House statement read.
The conversation came after roiling tensions between Jerusalem and Washington over setting red lines for Iran’s nuclear program burst into the open earlier in the day, and after Israeli sources said the White House had denied a request for Obama to meet with Netanyahu when he visits the US later this month to address the United Nation’s General Assembly.
“There was never a request for Prime Minister Netanyahu to meet with President Obama in Washington, nor was a request for a meeting ever denied,” the statement also read.
But earlier Tuesday, Israeli officials told The Jerusalem Post and other news organizations that a meeting had been requested by Jerusalem and turned down. The reason for the request being denied was attributed to scheduling conflicts.
Click here for full Jpost coverage of the Iranian threatClick here for full Jpost coverage of the Iranian threat
Netanyahu and Obama are slated to address the UN on different days, and therefore would not be in New York at the same time. In addition, the White House indicated Obama will not be holding any bilateral meetings while he is in town. But the prime minister was looking to set up a meeting in Washington after Obama had returned from the GA.
It would be the first time since taking office that Netanyahu would visit the United States without meeting Obama.
However, National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said Tuesday that he did not have a “final schedule” for the president for that week, a response that left open the possibility that a last-minute meeting could be added to the agenda.
Netanyahu is expected to meet with other senior US officials in New York, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Obama’s phone conversation with Netanyahu came after the latter attacked US policy on Tehran at a joint press conference in Jerusalem Tuesday with visiting Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Metodiev Borisov.
Netanyahu said that those who do not place “red lines” in front of Iran have no moral right to put a “red light” in front of Israel when it comes to military action.
Netanyahu’s words came in the wake of statements by Clinton on Sunday, and State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland on Monday, that the US had no intention of putting either red lines or deadlines in front of the Iranians.
Clinton said that the US was not setting deadlines, and Nuland expanded that by saying that it was “not useful” to be “setting deadlines one way or the other, red lines.”
Netanyahu, at the press conference with Borisov on Tuesday said that diplomacy and sanctions, which have hurt the Iranian economy, have not stopped the Iranian nuclear program.
“The fact is that every day that passes, Iran gets closer and closer to nuclear bombs,” he said. “If Iran knows that there are no red lines, if Iran knows that there are no deadlines, what will it do? Exactly what it is doing. It is continuing without interference toward obtaining nuclear weapons capabilities and from there nuclear bombs.”
The world, Netanyahu said, tells Israel to wait and that there is still time.
“And I say wait for what? Wait until when? Those in the international community who refuse to put deadlines in front of Iran do not have the moral right to put a red light before Israel.”
Iran must understand that there are red lines so it stops its nuclear program, he added.
While government officials have spoken anonymously in recent days and weeks of a frustration with US policy on Iran, these were the toughest public comments yet by the prime minister on the matter.
Since the beginning of the month, Netanyahu has repeatedly said that red lines needed to be established and that this was possibly one way to avoid the need for other action.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Tuesday night that his country had the right to act independently.
“Israel reserves the right and the responsibility to make decisions, as necessary, with respect to its security and future, and the US respects this,” he said.
“Despite the common purpose [between the two countries], there are certain differences between Israel and the US with regard to certain positions. But these are best dealt with behind closed doors.”
He added these differences should not detract from America’s role as Israel’s primary ally and friend in the international arena.
“Do not forget that the US is Israel’s main ally. We have intimate relationships in the intelligence field, and the US is Israel’s most important supporter in the security field,” Barak said. “The foundation of this relationship is a long-standing friendship and shared values between Israel and the American people.
In spite of the differences, and the importance of maintaining Israel’s right to act independently, we have to remember the importance of our partnership with the US. We should do everything possible not to harm it.”
US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Tuesday that his country was operating under a different timetable when it came to Iran. The US has more than a year to stop Iran should it decide to make a nuclear weapon, he said.
“It’s roughly about a year right now, a little more than a year,” the Pentagon official said on CBS’s This Morning program. He also provided assurance that the US could stop Iran.
“We think we will have the opportunity once we know that they’ve made that decision, [to] take the action necessary to stop [Iran],” he said, adding that the US had “pretty good intelligence” on Iran.
“We know generally what they’re up to. And so we keep a close track on them,” he said.
Furthermore, Panetta assessed that the US had the ability to keep Iran from constructing a nuclear weapon.
“We have the forces in place to be able to not only defend ourselves, but to do what we have to do to try to stop them from developing nuclear weapons,” he said.
Opposition leader Shaul Mofaz on Tuesday said he does not expect that Israel will take military action against Iran this year. Instead of making a decision on Iran, the opposition leader said, Netanyahu is busy subverting Obama.
Mofaz went on to accuse Netanyahu of meddling in the upcoming US presidential elections, which he described as “irresponsible behavior and an error that harms the fabric of relations with [Israel’s] biggest ally.”
Jerusalem’s relationship with Washington need not be sacrificed to eliminate the Iranian nuclear program, he added.
As recently as Sunday, during an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Netanyahu said the US and Israel were discussing red lines for Iran.
Netanyahu will be traveling to New York to address the Iranian issue at the UN General Assembly. He is scheduled to arrive in New York on Thursday morning, September 27, and fly back to Israel after Shabbat on September 30.
Tovah Lazaroff and Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.