'Israel's positions accepted with understanding'

Prime minister tells US president that for Iran, there is no difference between "Little Satan" Israel and "Big Satan" America.

Netnayahu and Obama stroll in Whtie House 390 (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom / GPO)
Netnayahu and Obama stroll in Whtie House 390
(photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom / GPO)
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 beforehand.
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, by 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.
Netanyahu said 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.”
However, the 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 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 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 remarks.
“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.
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 Pollard.
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.
US and 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 staff.
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 birthday.
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 episode.
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 Sunday.
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.