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March 5, 2012- Obama and Netanyahu Meet on Iran - History

March 5, 2012- Obama and Netanyahu Meet on Iran - History


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March 5, 2012- Obama and Netanyahu Meet on Iran

I am reluctant to write tonight's column. I have tried over the years to inform my readers with facts, and some observations. Tonight I do not want to go into the realm of fiction. Since I was not present at the face-to-face meeting between Obama and Netanyahu, I have no idea what really transpired. On the other hand, given that the meeting did take place, I would be remiss not sharing the little I think I know, along with what I can speculate.

First, the staging of the meeting was done to limit the possibility of sending too many mixed messages. The joint statement was delivered at the opening of the meeting, rather than at the end. In his statement, Obama repeated in short what he said at AIPAC (the full text of yesterday's speech is here). It was a tough statement on Iran where Obama again raised the possibility of American military action against Iran, while still stating there is still time for diplomacy. Netanyahu's centered his remarks on Israel having to remain the master of its own destiny. Obama did not seem that unhappy with what Netanyahu was saying, which leads me to believe that the remarks were coordinated in advance.

You can read the transcripts of the remarks, and judge for yourself.

Both Israeli and American sources are reporting that the meeting was very good. The Americans seem satisfied that Netanyahu is willing to give diplomacy more time. Israelis seem happy that Obama is willing to work to tighten the sanctions even further, and accepts that if sanctions do not work, Israel has a right to defend itself.

There has been talk in the last day of the Fatma issued by Ayatollah Kameni, stating that nuclear weapons cannot be used by Muslims. Is this an off ramp for the Iranians?


Obama and Netanyahu disagree on Iran, in public and in private

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama meet in the White House Oval Office to talk about Iran and other issues, March 5, 2012. (Ron Kampeas)

President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agree, at least in principle: Keep the talk on what to do about Iran behind closed doors. But once they’re behind those doors, they can’t agree — and they can’t seem to resist bringing their disagreements into the open.

Within hours of a long and private Oval Office meeting on Monday that aides to both leaders said was productive, Netanyahu suggested that Obama’s sanctions-focused approach to Iran’s nuclear program wasn’t producing results. The next day Obama was warning that the United States would suffer repercussions if Israel struck Iran prematurely.

There also seem to have been some concessions from both sides.

Netanyahu told Obama and congressional leaders that he had not yet decided to strike Iran. And Obama’s defense secretary, Leon Panetta, issued perhaps the most explicit warning yet of possible U.S. military action against Iran in his address Tuesday to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference.

“Military action is the last alternative when all else fails,” he said on the conference’s last day in a round of morning addresses aimed at motivating the 13,000 activists in attendance before they visited Capitol Hill to lobby lawmakers. “But make no mistake, if all else fails, we will act.”

That formulation is more acute than the “no- options-off-the-table” language that has been the boilerplate for the Obama and Bush administrations.

Much of Panetta’s speech appeared to be a bid to persuade Netanyahu to coordinate more closely with the United States.

“Cooperation is going to be essential to confronting the challenges of the 21st century,” Panetta said. “The United States must always have the unshakeable trust of our ally Israel. We are stronger when we act as one.”

Top Obama administration officials have tried to persuade Netanyahu that diplomatic options have not yet been exhausted in the bid to have Iran stand down from its suspected nuclear weapons program.

Netanyahu did not seem as eager to cooperate in his hard-hitting speech on Monday night, which repeatedly brought the AIPAC crowd to its feet for ovations. He stressed Israel’s right to act and expressed impatience with the pace of efforts to bring pressure to bear on Iran.

“I appreciate President Obama’s recent efforts to impose even tougher sanctions against Iran, and these sanctions are hurting Iran’s economy, but unfortunately Iran’s nuclear program continues to march forward,” Netanyahu said. “We’ve waited for diplomacy to work, we’ve waited for sanctions to work, none of us can afford to wait much longer. As prime minister of Israel, I will never let my people live in the shadow of annihilation.”

Responding to commentators who argue that military action against Iran would be ineffective or provoke a violent response, Netanyahu said, “I’ve heard these arguments before.” He then dramatically held up correspondence from 1944 between the World Jewish Congress and the U.S. War Department in which the latter rejected the WJC’s plea to bomb Auschwitz and the railways leading to the death camp.

“2012 is not 1944, the American government today is different. You heard that in President Obama’s speech yesterday,” he said. “But here is my point: The Jewish people is also different today. We have a state of our own, and the purpose of a Jewish state is to defend Jewish lives and secure our future. Never again.”

The next day, in response to a question at a news conference, Obama said, “Israel is a sovereign nation that has to make its own decisions about how best to preserve its security,” he said. “And as I said over the last several days, I am deeply mindful of the historical precedents that weigh on any prime minister of Israel when they think about the potential threats to Israel and the Jewish homeland.”

But then he added, “The argument that we’ve made to the Israelis is that we have made an unprecedented commitment to their security. There is an unbreakable bond between our two countries, but one of the functions of friends is to make sure that we provide honest and unvarnished advice in terms of what is the best approach to achieve a common goal, particularly one in which we have a stake. This is not just an issue of Israeli interests, this is an issue of U.S. interests. It’s also not just an issue of consequences for Israel, if action is taken prematurely. There are consequences to the United States as well.”

Obama circled back to Republican critics who have accused him of not making it clear to Iran that a military strike would ensue from a failure to stand down from its suspected nuclear program.

“You know, when I visit Walter Reed,” the military hospital in Washington, “when I sign letters to families that have — whose loved ones have not come home — I am reminded that there is a cost. But we think it through. We don’t play politics with it. When we have in the past — when we haven’t thought it through and it gets wrapped up in politics, we make mistakes. And typically it’s not the folks who are popping off who pay the price. It’s these incredible men and women in uniform and their families who pay the price.”

Obama insisted there was still time for diplomacy to work, and in a subtle gibe at Netanyahu said that Israel’s intelligence establishment agreed.

“It is my belief that we have a window of opportunity where this can still be resolved diplomatically,” he said. “That’s not just my view — that’s the view of our top intelligence officials, it’s the view of top Israeli intelligence officials.”

Both leaders appeared to be caught between wanting to make their case and keep some matters behind closed doors. Netanyahu started his Monday night speech to AIPAC’s policy conference by pledging, “I’m not going to talk to you about what Israel will do or not do — I never talk about that.”

A day earlier in his AIPAC address, Obama criticized what he called “loose talk of war.”

“Over the last few weeks, such talk has only benefited the Iranian government by driving up the price of oil, which they depend on to fund their nuclear program,” he said. “For the sake of Israel’s security, America’s security, and the peace and security of the world, now is not the time for bluster.”

The three Republican presidential candidates who addressed AIPAC on Tuesday used the opportunity to take aim at Obama’s Iran policy, accusing the president of being soft and hesitant on the issue.

“I will bring the current policy of procrastination to an end,” Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, said via satellite.

Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House of Representatives also speaking via satellite, said that as president he would not expect a warning from Israel should it decide to strike Iran.

Rick Santorum, the ex-U.S. senator who was at the conference in person, said that differences between the United States and Israel over what should trigger a strike were emboldening Iran. He accused Obama of “turning his back” on Israel.

In the president’s news conference, which was supposed to be about the housing crisis, Obama pushed back against hawkish talk from his Republican critics.

“When I see the casualness with which some of these folks talk about war, I’m reminded of the costs involved in war,” he said. “I’m reminded of the decision that I have to make in terms of sending our young men and women into battle, and the impacts that has on their lives, the impact it has on our national security, the impact it has on our economy. This is not a game, and there’s nothing casual about it.”


Red Lines, Deadlines and End Games: Netanyahu Turns Up Iran Heat on Obama

The Israeli prime minister's problem is not the lack of a red line. It's that the U.S. one isn't the same as his.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu listens as President Barack Obama speaks during their meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, March, 5, 2012.

Related

Updated: Sept. 11, 2012, 10:00 p.m.

Benjamin Netanyahu‘s frustration with the Obama Administration’s handling of the Iran nuclear issue is unlikely to be assuaged any time soon, with the Israeli daily Haaretz alleging on Tuesday that the White House has “declined” the Israeli Prime Minister’s request for a meeting during the U.N. General Assembly session in New York later this month. The White House immediately denied the report, with national security spokesman Tommy Vietor explaining that Netanyahu is scheduled to arrive in New York after Obama leaves. “They’re simply not in the city at the same time,” Vietor wrote in an email. “But the President and PM are in frequent contact and the PM will meet with other senior officials, including Secretary [of State Hillary] Clinton, during his visit.” Vietor later emailed: “Contrary to previous press reports, there was never any request for a meeting between the Prime Minister and President in Washington, nor was this request ever denied.” But Israeli media, encouraged by unnamed Israeli officials, are interpreting the decision as a snub – in a week where Netanyahu has made no secret of his exasperation with the Obama Administration.

The Prime Minister on Tuesday fired a thinly-disguised broadside against the Administration, telling reporters in Jerusalem, “Those in the international community who refuse to put a red line before Iran don’t have the moral right to place a red light before Israel.” That was in response to Washington’s rebuff of the Israeli leader’s demand that the U.S. publicly declare a “red line” for Iran’s nuclear work, that if crossed, would trigger a U.S. military response. The Israelis have also demanded that the U.S. set a deadline for Iran to comply with Western demands. But all of Israel’s key Western allies have delivered stern warnings against a go-it-alone military strike, which is also opposed by Israel’s military and security chiefs, as well as by a majority of its polled public. Unable to bend the Administration into accepting his terms and timeline, then, Netanyahu is reduced to playing Cassandra.

Clinton drew Israeli ire when she set out the Administration’s position on Iran in an interview, on Monday, with Bloomberg TV. “We’re not setting deadlines,” she said. “We’re watching very carefully about what they do, because it’s always been more about their actions. We’re convinced that we have more time to focus on these sanctions, to do everything we can to bring Iran to a good faith negotiation.” But Netanyahu was having none of it, claiming that “as of now, we can clearly say that diplomacy and sanctions have not worked. They have hit the Iranian economy, but they haven’t stopped the Iranian nuclear project.”

Netanyahu is certainly correct that the pain of sanctions has not stopped Iran from continuing its nuclear work in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, nor has it prompted Tehran to concede to Western demands at the negotiating table. At the same time, however, the U.S. assessment is that while Iran continues to accumulate nuclear infrastructure that would give it the capability to build a weapon, Tehran has not yet decided to build a bomb. (Many analysts suspect Iran’s current goal is the “nuclear latency” enjoyed by countries such as Japan, which could build nuclear weapons in a matter of months should they deem it strategically necessary to do so.) Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told CBS on Tuesday that if Iran took the strategic decision, right now, it would need “a little more than a year” to build a bomb. “We think we will have the opportunity, once we know that they’ve made that decision, [to] take the action necessary to stop them,” Panetta said. And it’s at an Iranian move to weaponize nuclear material that the Obama Administration has drawn its own red line. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney had reiterated on Monday, “The line is the President is committed to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and he will use every tool in the arsenal of American power to achieve that goal.”

The real problem for Netanyahu, is not that Obama hasn’t stated a red line it’s that Obama’s red line is not the same as Israel’s red line. “If Iran knows that there is no red line, if Iran knows that there is no deadline, what will it do?” Netanyahu said Tuesday. “Exactly what it’s doing. It’s continuing, without any interference, towards obtaining nuclear weapons capability and from there, nuclear bombs.”

Netanyahu’s red line is not simply Iran “acquiring a nuclear weapon”, but rather Iran attaining the capability to build one — a capacity Tehran arguably already has, but hasn’t begun to use. That’s why Israel insists that the only acceptable outcome of a diplomatic process is the complete dismantling and shipping out of Iran’s enrichment infrastructure and stockpile of fissile material. Prospects for such an outcome remains remote, even if Iran has at various times indicated a willingness to negotiate limits to its nuclear work.

The Obama Administration hasn’t until now outlined its view of an acceptable diplomatic outcome should the Iranians prove willing to compromise, avoiding the question of whether it shares the Israeli view that Iran can’t be allowed to enrich uranium, even as part of a peaceful energy program. And the lack of progress in diplomacy means it hasn’t had to do so. But as things stand, Iran can conceivably continue doing what it’s currently doing without tripping a U.S. red line, incrementally expanding its nuclear capability but being careful to avoid steps that could be construed as moving to build weapons. It’s the fact that Iran’s current incremental expansion of its capabilities will bring ever-tighter sanctions but not a U.S. military strike, that Netanyahu is trying – apparently in vain – to reverse, mostly by threatening a unilateral military strike.

In an attempt to restate the status quo, the White House released a statement on Tuesday night declaring: “President Obama spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu for an hour tonight as a part of their ongoing consultations. The two leaders discussed the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program, and our close cooperation on Iran and other security issues. 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.”


At Obama-Netanyahu summit, assurances exchanged but differences remain

WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may not have bridged their differences on how to deal with Iran, but each managed to give the other a measure of reassurance.

In his speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Obama held his ground, declining to articulate new American red lines on the Iranian nuclear issue and strongly advising against “loose talk of war.” Yet he earned the praise of the prime minister and the pro-Israel lobby with his acknowledgement that Israel needs to be able to defend itself, and his vow that America has Israel’s back.

While Obama stressed diplomacy as a continued option in public and private comments, Netanyahu indicated in the two leaders’ private meeting that he believes sanctions have been exhausted. Yet even if the prime minister does not share the president’s patience, he also told Obama that there is not yet any Israeli decision to attack Iran, according to Israeli press reports.

“We do believe that there is still a window that allows for a diplomatic resolution to this issue, but ultimately the Iranians’ regime has to make a decision to move in that direction, a decision that they have not made thus far,” Obama said in an Oval Office photo-op Monday morning ahead of the leaders’ two-hour meeting, which was followed by what aides described as an “expansive” lunch.

He added, looking at Netanyahu, “I know that both the prime minister and I prefer to resolve this diplomatically. We understand the costs of any military action.”

Netanyahu did not acknowledge the president’s plea for diplomacy to play itself out, instead emphasizing Israel’s sovereign right to act — and noting that Obama had made the same point in his speech the day before to AIPAC’s annual policy forum.

“I think that above and beyond that there are two principles, longstanding principles of American policy that you reiterated yesterday in your speech — that Israel must have the ability always to defend itself by itself against any threat and that when it comes to Israel’s security, Israel has the right, the sovereign right to make its own decisions,” Netanyahu said.

“I believe that’s why you appreciate, Mr. President, that Israel must reserve the right to defend itself. And after all, that’s the very purpose of the Jewish state — to restore to the Jewish people control over our destiny,” he continued. “And that’s why my supreme responsibility as prime minister of Israel is to ensure that Israel remains the master of its fate.”

That acknowledgement — that Israel has the right to strike in its own perceived self-defense — was the element that AIPAC’s leaders were seeking, and Obama earned the most extended standing ovation of the day when he told the conference: “Israel must always have the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat.”

Another crowd pleaser was the president’s pledge that “the United States will always have Israel’s back when it comes to Israel’s security.”

How to deal with Iran dominated much of the meeting between the leaders. As if to underscore Netanyahu’s message of his determination to confront the Iranian regime, his gift to Obama was a copy of the Megillah, the tale of the Persian Jews’ bloody triumph over Haman.

An Israeli source said the meeting underscored agreement between the Netanyahu and Obama governments in four areas: a determination to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon that all options are on the table that containment is not an option that Israel is a sovereign state that has a right to defend itself by itself.

In his own address to the conference on Monday morning — delivered as Obama and Netanyahu were meeting — Howard Kohr, AIPAC’s executive director, made it clear that the fourth message was the one AIPAC had been seeking.

“This is the context in which Israel must decide her course of action,” he said. “If she can put her fate in the hands of anyone — even her closest ally, America — or if she must conduct a strike to postpone Iran from acquiring a nuclear bomb. Israel was created to ensure that the Jewish people would never have to put their fate in the hands of others.”

Kohr also pushed back strongly against those who say that Obama has not done enough to confront Iran.

“President Obama and his administration are to be commended,” he said. “They have — more than any other administration, more than any other country — brought unprecedented pressure to bear on Tehran through the use of biting economic sanctions. They have built a broad coalition to isolate the Iranian regime and they have brought the necessary military assets to the gulf and to Iran’s neighbors in order to signal that America has the power to act.”

Kohr echoed Democrats in their pleas not to make Iran policy a partisan issue. Republican salvos against Obama have frustrated his supporters, who say that the criticisms fail to take into account the strides he has made in isolating Iran.

While campaigning in Georgia on Sunday, GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney said that Obama had “failed to communicate that military options are on the table.”

The president and administration officials have repeatedly stressed that all options are on the table, even as they call for giving sanctions time to work. In his Sunday speech to AIPAC, Obama said that there is “too much loose talk of war,” arguing that “now is not the time for bluster.”


Obama Presses Netanyahu to Resist Strikes on Iran

WASHINGTON — With Israel warning of a possible military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, President Obama urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House on Monday to give diplomacy and economic sanctions a chance to work before resorting to military action.

The meeting, held in a charged atmosphere of election-year politics and a deepening confrontation with Tehran, was nevertheless “friendly, straightforward, and serious,” a White House official said. But it did not resolve basic differences between the two leaders over how to deal with the Iranian threat.

Mr. Netanyahu, the official said, reiterated that Israel had not made a decision on striking Iran, but he expressed deep skepticism that international pressure would persuade Iran’s leaders to forsake the development of nuclear weapons. Mr. Netanyahu, according to the official, argued that the West should not reopen talks with Iran until it agreed to a verifiable suspension of its uranium enrichment activities — a condition the White House says would doom talks before they began.

Speaking later on Monday to an influential pro-Israeli lobbying group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Mr. Netanyahu said, “We waited for diplomacy to work we’ve waited for sanctions to work none of us can afford to wait much longer.”

Mr. Obama, the official said, had maintained during their Oval Office meeting that the European Union’s impending oil sanctions and the blacklisting of Iran’s central bank could yet force Tehran back to the bargaining table — not necessarily eliminating the nuclear threat but pushing back the timetable for the development of a weapon.

“We do believe there is still a window that allows for a diplomatic resolution to this issue,” the president said as Mr. Netanyahu sat next to him before the start of their three hours of talks.

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Both leaders agreed to try to tamp down the heated debate about Iran in their countries, officials said. Mr. Obama said the talk of war was driving up oil prices and undermining the effect of the sanctions on Iran. Mr. Netanyahu expressed frustration that statements by American officials about the negative effects of military action could send a message of weakness to Tehran.

Keeping a measured tone may be challenging, however. At the Aipac conference under way in Washington, speakers have delivered fervent calls for tougher action on Iran.

The Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, used his speech to lay out conditions under which he would introduce a bill in the Senate authorizing the use of military force against Iran. “We have now reached the point where the current administration’s policies, however well-intentioned, are simply not enough,” the Kentucky Republican said. An Aipac official noted that this idea originated with Mr. McConnell, not with Aipac.

When Mr. Obama spoke to the group on Sunday, he articulated many themes that he and Mr. Netanyahu discussed the following day in their meeting. Despite their sometimes acrimonious relationship over the Middle East peace process, Israeli and American officials said the two leaders were in sync about the need to stop Iran from joining the ranks of nuclear states.

“My policy here is not going to be one of containment,” Mr. Obama said before the meeting on Monday. “My policy is prevention of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons.” He added, “When I say all options are on the table, I mean it.”

Mr. Netanyahu, noting that Iran’s leaders vilify the United States as the “Great Satan” and Israel as the “Little Satan,” said there was no difference between the two countries. “We are you, and you are us,” he said. “We are together.”

The prime minister thanked Mr. Obama for affirming, in his speech on Sunday, that “when it comes to security, Israel has the right, the sovereign right to make its own decisions.”

An American official said the president was trying to avoid the perception that he was publicly pressuring the Israeli leader, though supporters of Israeli interpreted it as a signal that the United States recognized Israel’s right to make its own decision on military action. Whether Israel could, in fact, carry out an effective strike on Iran without American support is unclear.

“My supreme responsibility as prime minister of Israel is to ensure that Israel remains the master of its fate,” Mr. Netanyahu said.

Israeli officials said they were gratified by the president’s explicit reference to military force as an option, his rejection of a containment policy and his reaffirmation of Israel’s right to make decisions on its national security.

Still, beneath the tableau of shoulder-to-shoulder solidarity, the differences in their views were on display in their statements before the meeting. Mr. Netanyahu said nothing about diplomacy and the sanctions that Mr. Obama has advocated. And while the president repeated his vow that “all options are on the table” to halt Iran’s pursuit of a weapon, he did not explicitly mention military force, as he had on Sunday.

Nor has the president embraced another crucial Israeli demand: that military action come before Iran acquires the capability to manufacture a bomb, as opposed to before it actually builds one. The two men did not close the gap on this issue, the official said, though he added that Mr. Netanyahu did not press Mr. Obama on it.

Mr. Netanyahu also did not push Mr. Obama to lay down sharper “red lines,” or conditions, that would prompt American action, as had been rumored last week, Israeli and American officials said.

Indeed, in his speech to Aipac, Mr. Netanyahu did not speak of preventing Iran from achieving nuclear weapons capability, only a nuclear weapon itself. “For the sake of our prosperity, for the sake of security, for the sake of our children, Iran must not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons,” he said.

As he has in previous speeches, Mr. Netanyahu dwelled on the threat posed by a nuclear-armed Iran. Tehran, he said, was the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism, trying in the past year to murder the Saudi ambassador to Washington. Iran, he said, plotted to destroy the state of Israel “every day, each day, relentlessly.”

Israeli officials seemed most gratified with Mr. Obama’s explicit refusal to follow a policy of containing a nuclear-armed Iran. The president said Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons would ignite an arms race in the Middle East, raise the specter of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists, and allow Iran to behave with impunity in the region.

The mood in the Oval Office was somber and businesslike, as it usually is in meetings between Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu. But the chemistry was better than it had been in previous meetings, officials said.

In their last Oval Office encounter, in May 2011, Mr. Netanyahu summarily rejected a proposal by the president to revive moribund peace negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. With a stone-faced Mr. Obama sitting next to him, Mr. Netanyahu said Israel would not pursue a “peace based on illusions.”


Obama and Netanyahu Meet: Relationship and Differences Unchanged

President Barack Obama on Monday asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to give the sanctions against Iran more time to force it into submission, until it announces – as North Korea has just done, reportedly – that it would halt its nuclear plans in exchange for food. But Netanyahu gave no sign that he was taking a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities off the table.

It is a rare thing in such high level meetings that so much effort and energy would be spent only to produce a position that is an exact replica of both sides’ stand before the fuss.

Unless the fuss itself was the purpose of this high level meeting.

Take, for instance, the absence of heated disagreements, before or after the meeting. The same gulf that separated the two men yesterday was still there, but neither leader appeared particularly upset over what should have been a discussion of life and death for both of them. A nuclear Iran would surely be capable of delivering a stunning blow to Israel, God forbid, but it would also be able to seriously damage US interests, in the Middle East and elsewhere. Imagine the reaction of the Saudi Royal house to its loathsome Shi’ite neighbor, already an existential threat to the region’s oil producers, wielding a nuclear device. It is the stuff of American nightmares, too.

Unless the meeting today was not about Iran’s threat but about the stability of Netanyahu’s coalition government and Obama’s chances at the polls in November.

I spoke to an official of one of the right-wing factions in the Knesset who told me that all day long Leftist officials had been grabbing him by the collar and reading him the Democrats’ talking points: Obama protected Israel in the UN and in Durban Obama is paying for Israel’s anti-missile project, and so on.

“I told them: can you imagine if he didn’t?” the official said. “How could he even think of getting re-elected if, say, the US didn’t reject the Goldstone report?”

In that vein, neither leader likes the other very much, and at least one has been caught saying as much in public. But today, more than ever, they need each other.

Both leaders have economic issues and social protests to deal with, and whether the answer is subjective, objective or politically prejudiced, both leaders stand a chance of failing the Ronald Reagan ultimate election question to the voter: Are you better off today than you were four years ago?

And so engaging Iran in an ongoing verbal duel would work well for both Obama and Netanyahu.

Strangely, the same duel appears to still be serving well their foe, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Mind you, this does not mean that the Iranian nuclear threat is not real. It only means that we who do not have access to secret intelligence (and I suspect even those who do) have no concrete idea about Iran’s progress in building a nuclear device, because Iran has been barring any and all inspection from those facilities. Ahmadinejad has played a brilliant game of Three Card Monte, and even seems to be having oodles of fun with it. Here you see it, here you don’t, we may have the bomb, we may not, who knows.

Obama sought to assure Netanyahu that the United States was keeping the military option against Iran open, and “has Israel’s back,” and at the same time urged Israel to wait patiently for the sanctions and, possibly, diplomacy, to do their job.

Netanyahu, for his part, concentrated on Israel’s undeniable right to defend itself against Iran, and reiterated that Israel sees Iran’s nuclear program as a threat to its existence.

The problem is, both leaders had held precisely the same positions before and after their meeting. So why meet?

Plausibly in order to meet. The show’s the thing.

Let’s face it, Israel is hesitant about striking Iran in the near future. It may not be able to do so overwhelmingly without the superior US air power. And the US cannot permit Iran to continue brandishing its nuclear swords, because it’s bad for business everywhere. Because it could end with a barrel of oil selling at $200, and this would surely mean a Mormon president in the White House come January.

There are only three directions this plot can go in the next six months, and all three are perfectly plausible:

Iran may capitulate under world pressure.

Israel may decide it can’t wait any longer and strike on its own.

The US and Israel may decide it’s time to take out Iran.

We knew all that on Sunday. We know nothing more today.

While no one in the West can say with certainty how real is Iran’s nuclear threat, they all appear to be ignoring a different threat which is frighteningly real and no one doubts that some day, God forbid, it would be in play.


Netanyahu, Obama Meet, Seem To Keep True Feelings Close To The Chest

WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork) — President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had their long-awaited Oval Office face-off on Monday.

They may not agree on much, but one thing that Netanyahu told President Obama had a certain ring of truth: Israel and the United States are both enemies of Iran.

&ldquoIran’s leaders know that, too. For them you’re the great Satan. We’re the little Satan. For them we are you and we are us,&rdquo Netanyahu said.

President Obama didn’t acknowledge that, preferring instead to send a message to Iran and Jewish voters here at home about America’s commitment to Israel.

&ldquoOur commitment to the security of Israel is rock solid,&rdquo Obama said.

Commitment or not, Israel’s assessment of Iran’s nuclear capabilities are more pessimistic than the president’s. The Israelis say the time for military intervention is months away. The U.S. appears to think differently.

&ldquoWe do believe that there is still a window that allows for a diplomatic resolution of the issue,&rdquo Obama said.

The purpose of the meeting was for the United States to try to stop Israel from a premature bombing mission of Iran’s nuclear facilities. Israel wants to try to pressure the United States into drawing clear lines in the sand about what will provoke an American military attack.

But Netanyahu held out the possibility of going it alone.

&ldquoMy supreme responsibility as prime minister of Israel is to ensure Israel remains the master of its fate,&rdquo Netanyahu said.

The one sure thing is that there are a lot of things that both sides won’t talk about publicly.

Please offer your thoughts in the comments section below …


Netanyahu on Iran: 'None of us can afford to wait much longer'

Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, invoked the spectre of Auschwitz as he chided those who question whether Iran is in pursuit of a nuclear weapon and warned that "none of us can afford to wait much longer" to act against Tehran.

In an address to the powerful pro-Israel lobby in Washington, Netanyahu derided the effectiveness of sanctions hours after a meeting with Barack Obama at which the US president appealed for time for diplomacy to pressure Iran to open up its nuclear programme to inspection.

At the strained White House meeting, the Israeli prime minister responded to Obama's demand for an end to "loose talk of war" and bluster over Iran by reiterating the Jewish state's "right to defend itself".

Speaking to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) hours later, Netanyahu questioned the premise of US policy that Iran has not yet made the decision to develop a nuclear weapon.

"Amazingly, some people refuse to acknowledge that Iran's goal is to develop nuclear weapons. You see, Iran claims that it's enriching uranium to develop medical research. Yeah, right," he said. "If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then what is it? That's right, it's a duck. But this duck is a nuclear duck and it's time the world started calling a duck a duck.

"Fortunately, President Obama and most world leaders understand that the idea that Iran's goal is not to develop nuclear weapons is ridiculous."

In fact, Obama has consistently said that US intelligence does not show Iran is working towards a nuclear bomb or has decided to do so. Washington believes that even if Iran decides to develop a nuclear weapon, it is at least a year away from being able to do so.

At the White House meeting, the US president again urged that sanctions be given time to work. Netanyahu was dismissive in his speech to Aipac.

"For the last decade, the international community has tried diplomacy. It hasn't worked. For six years, the international community has applied sanctions. That hasn't worked either. I appreciate President Obama's recent efforts to impose even tougher sanctions against Iran. Those sanctions are hurting Iran's economy. But unfortunately, Iran's nuclear march goes on," he said.

"Israel has waited patiently for the international community to resolve this issue. We've waited for diplomacy to work. We've waited for sanctions to work. None of us can afford to wait much longer."

Netanyahu arrived in Washington planning to press Obama to commit to military action against Iran if it crosses specified "red lines" in development of its nuclear programme or fails to meet demands to dismantle its underground nuclear facility in Qom and to halt uranium enrichment.

US officials say the president did not want to make any such commitment, even though he says the military option remains on the table, out of concern that it will be seen as implicitly endorsing an Israeli attack if the demands are not met.

It's not known if Netanyahu pressed the case at his one-on-one session with Obama and the Israeli prime minister told Aipac he wasn't going to discuss it in public.

"I'm not going to talk to you about what Israel will do or will not do. I never talk about that," he said.

In his own speech to Aipac on Sunday, Obama demanded an end to the "loose talk of war" and "bluster" against Iran - a clear reference to the noise out of Netanyahu's government. At the same time the US president repeated his reassurance that he "has Israel's back".

At the White House meeting, Obama spoke of the "difficult months" ahead.

"It is profoundly in the United States' interest as well to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon," he said. "That's why we have worked so diligently to set up the most crippling sanctions ever with respect to Iran. We do believe that there is still a window that allows for a diplomatic resolution to this issue, but ultimately the Iranians' regime has to make a decision to move in that direction, a decision that they have not made thus far.

"My policy is prevention of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons. When I say all options are at the table, I mean it. Having said that, I know that both the prime minister and I prefer to resolve this diplomatically. We understand the costs of any military action."

But Netanyahu told Aipac: "There's been plenty of talk recently about the costs of stopping Iran. I think it's time to talk about the costs of not stopping Iran."

The Israeli prime minister invoked the Holocaust in saying he would not allow Israelis to "live under the shadow of annihilation". He said he had in his desk a copy of a letter from the World Jewish Congress asking the US war department to bomb the Auschwitz death camp in 1944.

Netanyahu said that in their reply the Americans said that such an operation would require them to divert too many aircraft from other missions and it probably wouldn't succeed.

"And here's the most remarkable sentence of all, and I quote: 'Such an effort might provoke even more vindictive action by the Germans'. Think about that – 'even more vindictive action' - than the Holocaust," he said. "Today we have a state of our own. The purpose of the Jewish state is to secure the Jewish future. That is why Israel must always have the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat. We deeply appreciate the great alliance between our two countries. But when it comes to Israel's survival, we must always remain the masters of our fate."

Netanyahu - who tellingly made no mention of the conflict with the Palestinians, exposing how it has been sidelined by the whipping up of the Iran crisis - was talking to a sympathetic audience of 13,000 Aipac members who loudly cheered and clapped the Israeli leader. But he was also addressing a powerful one.

More than half the members of the US Congress were in attendance, a reflection of Aipac's influence on Capitol Hill where it has been a driving force in pressing for stronger sanctions legislation against Iran and upping the rhetoric.

The Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, addressed the conference shortly before Netanyahu and backed the Israeli wish to see Obama make an explicit threat of military action against Iran if red lines are crossed, although he did not mention Netanyahu's demands for the dismantling of existing nuclear facilities.

McConnell blamed Obama's attempts to engage with the Iranian leadership when he first came to power for allowing Tehran time to develop its nuclear programme, describing the approach as a "critical flaw" in policy.

He said that Obama is now relying too heavily on sanctions and called for a "clear declarative policy of what we will do and why".

"This is the policy I recommend: If Iran at any time begins to enrich uranium to weapons grade levels or decides to go forward with a weapons programme, then the United States would use overwhelming force to end that programme," McConnell said to loud cheers and applause and whistles.

"All that's been lacking until now is a clear declarative policy, and if the administration's reluctant for some reason to articulate it then Congress will attempt to do it for them."


Remarks by President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I want to welcome Prime Minister Netanyahu and the entire Israeli delegation back to the White House, back to the Oval Office.

This visit obviously comes at a critical time. We are seeing incredible changes that are taking place in the Middle East and in North Africa. We have seen the terrible bloodshed that's going on in Syria, the democratic transition that's taking place in Egypt. And in the midst of this, we have an island of democracy and one of our greatest allies in Israel.

As I've said repeatedly, the bond between our two countries is unbreakable. My personal commitment -- a commitment that is consistent with the history of other occupants of this Oval Office -- our commitment to the security of Israel is rock solid. And as I've said to the Prime Minister in every single one of our meetings, the United States will always have Israel's back when it comes to Israel's security. This is a bond that is based not only on our mutual security interests and economic interests, but is also based on common values and the incredible people-to-people contacts that we have between our two countries.

During the course of this meeting, we'll talk about the regional issues that are taking place, and I look forward to the Prime Minister sharing with me his ideas about how we can increase the prospects of peace and security in the region. We will discuss the issues that continue to be a focus of not only our foreign policy but also the Prime Minister's -- how we can, potentially, bring about a calmer set of discussions between the Israelis and the Palestinians and arrive at a peaceful resolution to that longstanding conflict. 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.

And obviously a large topic of conversation will be Iran, which I devoted a lot of time to in my speech to AIPAC yesterday, and I know that the Prime Minister has been focused on for a long period of time. Let me just reiterate a couple of points on that.

Number one, we all know that it's unacceptable from Israel's perspective to have a country with a nuclear weapon that has called for the destruction of Israel. But as I emphasized yesterday, it is profoundly in the United States' interest as well to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. We do not want to see a nuclear arms race in one of the most volatile regions in the world. We do not want the possibility of a nuclear weapon falling into the hands of terrorists. And we do not want a regime that has been a state sponsor of terrorism being able to feel that it can act even more aggressively or with impunity as a consequence of its nuclear power.

That's why we have worked so diligently to set up the most crippling sanctions ever with respect to Iran. We do believe that there is still a window that allows for a diplomatic resolution to this issue, but ultimately the Iranians' regime has to make a decision to move in that direction, a decision that they have not made thus far.

And as I emphasized, even as we will continue on the diplomatic front, we will continue to tighten pressure when it comes to sanctions, I reserve all options, and my policy here is not going to be one of containment. My policy is prevention of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons. And as I indicated yesterday in my speech, when I say all options are at the table, I mean it.

Having said that, I know that both the Prime Minister and I prefer to resolve this diplomatically. We understand the costs of any military action. And I want to assure both the American people and the Israeli people that we are in constant and close consultation. I think the levels of coordination and consultation between our militaries and our intelligence not just on this issue but on a broad range of issues has been unprecedented. And I intend to make sure that that continues during what will be a series of difficult months, I suspect, in 2012.

So, Prime Minister, we welcome you and we appreciate very much the friendship of the Israeli people. You can count on that friendship always being reciprocated from the United States.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Thank you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Mr. President, thank you for those kind words. And thank you, too, for that strong speech yesterday. And I want to thank you also for the warm hospitality that you've shown me and my delegation.

The alliance between our two countries is deeply appreciated by me and by everyone in Israel. And I think that, as you said, when Americans look around the Middle East today, they see one reliable, stable, faithful ally of the United States, and that's the democracy of Israel.

Americans know that Israel and the United States share common values, that we defend common interests, that we face common enemies. Iran's leaders know that, too. For them, you're the Great Satan, we're the Little Satan. For them, we are you and you're us. And you know something, Mr. President -- at least on this last point, I think they're right. We are you, and you are us. We're together. So if there's one thing that stands out clearly in the Middle East today, it's that Israel and America stand together.

I think that above and beyond that are two principles, longstanding principles of American policy that you reiterated yesterday in your speech -- that Israel must have the ability always to defend itself by itself against any threat and that when it comes to Israel's security, Israel has the right, the sovereign right to make its own decisions. I believe that's why you appreciate, Mr. President, that Israel must reserve the right to defend itself.

And after all, that's the very purpose of the Jewish state -- to restore to the Jewish people control over our destiny. And that's why my supreme responsibility as Prime Minister of Israel is to ensure that Israel remains the master of its fate.

So I thank you very much, Mr. President, for your friendship, and I look forward to our discussions. Thank you, Mr. President.


Remarks by the President at AIPAC Policy Conference

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Well, good morning, everyone.

Rosy, thank you for your kind words. I have never seen Rosy on the basketball court. I'll bet it would be a treat. (Laughter.) Rosy, you've been a dear friend of mine for a long time and a tireless advocate for the unbreakable bonds between Israel and the United States. And as you complete your term as President, I salute your leadership and your commitment. (Applause.)

I want to thank the board of directors. As always, I&rsquom glad to see my long-time friends in the Chicago delegation. (Applause.) I also want to thank the members of Congress who are with us here today, and who will be speaking to you over the next few days. You've worked hard to maintain the partnership between the United States and Israel. And I especially want to thank my close friend, and leader of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz. (Applause.)

I&rsquom glad that my outstanding young Ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, is in the house. (Applause.) I understand that Dan is perfecting his Hebrew on his new assignment, and I appreciate his constant outreach to the Israeli people. And I&rsquom also pleased that we&rsquore joined by so many Israeli officials, including Ambassador Michael Oren. (Applause.) And tomorrow, I&rsquom very much looking forward to welcoming Prime Minister Netanyahu and his delegation back to the White House. (Applause.)

Every time I come to AIPAC, I&rsquom especially impressed to see so many young people here. (Applause.) You don't yet get the front seats -- I understand. (Laughter.) You have to earn that. But students from all over the country who are making their voices heard and engaging deeply in our democratic debate. You carry with you an extraordinary legacy of more than six decades of friendship between the United States and Israel. And you have the opportunity -- and the responsibility -- to make your own mark on the world. And for inspiration, you can look to the man who preceded me on this stage, who's being honored at this conference -- my friend, President Shimon Peres. (Applause.)

Shimon was born a world away from here, in a shtetlin what was then Poland, a few years after the end of the first world war. But his heart was always in Israel, the historic homeland of the Jewish people. (Applause.) And when he was just a boy he made his journey across land and sea -- toward home.

In his life, he has fought for Israel&rsquos independence, and he has fought for peace and security. As a member of the Haganah and a member of the Knesset, as a Minister of Defense and Foreign Affairs, as a Prime Minister and as President -- Shimon helped build the nation that thrives today: the Jewish state of Israel. (Applause.) But beyond these extraordinary achievements, he has also been a powerful moral voice that reminds us that right makes might -- not the other way around. (Applause.)

Shimon once described the story of the Jewish people by saying it proved that, &ldquoslings, arrows and gas chambers can annihilate man, but cannot destroy human values, dignity, and freedom.&rdquo And he has lived those values. (Applause.) He has taught us to ask more of ourselves, and to empathize more with our fellow human beings. I am grateful for his life&rsquos work and his moral example. And I'm proud to announce that later this spring, I will invite Shimon Peres to the White House to present him with America&rsquos highest civilian honor -- the Presidential Medal of Freedom. (Applause.)

In many ways, this award is a symbol of the broader ties that bind our nations. The United States and Israel share interests, but we also share those human values that Shimon spoke about: A commitment to human dignity. A belief that freedom is a right that is given to all of God&rsquos children. An experience that shows us that democracy is the one and only form of government that can truly respond to the aspirations of citizens.

America&rsquos Founding Fathers understood this truth, just as Israel&rsquos founding generation did. President Truman put it well, describing his decision to formally recognize Israel only minutes after it declared independence. He said, "I had faith in Israel before it was established. I believe it has a glorious future before it -- as not just another sovereign nation, but as an embodiment of the great ideals of our civilization."

For over six decades, the American people have kept that faith. Yes, we are bound to Israel because of the interests that we share -- in security for our communities, prosperity for our people, the new frontiers of science that can light the world. But ultimately it is our common ideals that provide the true foundation for our relationship. That is why America&rsquos commitment to Israel has endured under Democratic and Republican Presidents, and congressional leaders of both parties. (Applause.) In the United States, our support for Israel is bipartisan, and that is how it should stay. (Applause.)

AIPAC&rsquos work continually nurtures this bond. And because of AIPAC&rsquos effectiveness in carrying out its mission, you can expect that over the next several days, you will hear many fine words from elected officials describing their commitment to the U.S.-Israel relationship. But as you examine my commitment, you don&rsquot just have to count on my words. You can look at my deeds. Because over the last three years, as President of the United States, I have kept my commitments to the state of Israel. At every crucial juncture -- at every fork in the road -- we have been there for Israel. Every single time. (Applause.)

Four years ago, I stood before you and said that, "Israel&rsquos security is sacrosanct. It is non-negotiable." That belief has guided my actions as President. The fact is, my administration&rsquos commitment to Israel&rsquos security has been unprecedented. Our military and intelligence cooperation has never been closer. (Applause.) Our joint exercises and training have never been more robust. Despite a tough budget environment, our security assistance has increased every single year. (Applause.) We are investing in new capabilities. We&rsquore providing Israel with more advanced technology -- the types of products and systems that only go to our closest friends and allies. And make no mistake: We will do what it takes to preserve Israel&rsquos qualitative military edge -- because Israel must always have the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat. (Applause.)

This isn&rsquot just about numbers on a balance sheet. As a senator, I spoke to Israeli troops on the Lebanese border. I visited with families who&rsquove known the terror of rocket fire in Sderot. And that&rsquos why, as President, I have provided critical funding to deploy the Iron Dome system that has intercepted rockets that might have hit homes and hospitals and schools in that town and in others. (Applause.) Now our assistance is expanding Israel&rsquos defensive capabilities, so that more Israelis can live free from the fear of rockets and ballistic missiles. Because no family, no citizen, should live in fear.

And just as we&rsquove been there with our security assistance, we've been there through our diplomacy. When the Goldstone report unfairly singled out Israel for criticism, we challenged it. (Applause.) When Israel was isolated in the aftermath of the flotilla incident, we supported them. (Applause.) When the Durban conference was commemorated, we boycotted it, and we will always reject the notion that Zionism is racism. (Applause.)

When one-sided resolutions are brought up at the Human Rights Council, we oppose them. When Israeli diplomats feared for their lives in Cairo, we intervened to save them. (Applause.) When there are efforts to boycott or divest from Israel, we will stand against them. (Applause.) And whenever an effort is made to de-legitimize the state of Israel, my administration has opposed them. (Applause.) So there should not be a shred of doubt by now -- when the chips are down, I have Israel&rsquos back. (Applause.)

Which is why, if during this political season -- (laughter) -- you hear some questions regarding my administration&rsquos support for Israel, remember that it&rsquos not backed up by the facts. And remember that the U.S.-Israel relationship is simply too important to be distorted by partisan politics. America&rsquos national security is too important. Israel&rsquos security is too important. (Applause.)

Of course, there are those who question not my security and diplomatic commitments, but rather my administration&rsquos ongoing pursuit of peace between Israelis and Palestinians. So let me say this: I make no apologies for pursuing peace. Israel&rsquos own leaders understand the necessity of peace. Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Barak, President Peres -- each of them have called for two states, a secure Israel that lives side by side with an independent Palestinian state. I believe that peace is profoundly in Israel&rsquos security interest. (Applause.)

The reality that Israel faces -- from shifting demographics, to emerging technologies, to an extremely difficult international environment -- demands a resolution of this issue. And I believe that peace with the Palestinians is consistent with Israel&rsquos founding values -- because of our shared belief in self-determination, and because Israel&rsquos place as a Jewish and democratic state must be protected. (Applause.)

Of course, peace is hard to achieve. There&rsquos a reason why it's remained elusive for six decades. The upheaval and uncertainty in Israel&rsquos neighborhood makes it that much harder -- from the horrific violence raging in Syria, to the transition in Egypt. And the division within the Palestinian leadership makes it harder still -- most notably, with Hamas&rsquos continued rejection of Israel&rsquos very right to exist.

But as hard as it may be, we should not, and cannot, give in to cynicism or despair. The changes taking place in the region make peace more important, not less. And I've made it clear that there will be no lasting peace unless Israel&rsquos security concerns are met. (Applause.) That's why we continue to press Arab leaders to reach out to Israel, and will continue to support the peace treaty with Egypt. That&rsquos why -- just as we encourage Israel to be resolute in the pursuit of peace -- we have continued to insist that any Palestinian partner must recognize Israel&rsquos right to exist, and reject violence, and adhere to existing agreements. (Applause.) And that is why my administration has consistently rejected any efforts to short-cut negotiations or impose an agreement on the parties. (Applause.)

As Rosy noted, last year, I stood before you and pledged that, "the United States will stand up against efforts to single Israel out at the United Nations." As you know, that pledge has been kept. (Applause.) Last September, I stood before the United Nations General Assembly and reaffirmed that any lasting peace must acknowledge the fundamental legitimacy of Israel and its security concerns. I said that America&rsquos commitment to Israel&rsquos security is unshakeable, our friendship with Israel is enduring, and that Israel must be recognized. No American President has made such a clear statement about our support for Israel at the United Nations at such a difficult time. People usually give those speeches before audiences like this one -- not before the General Assembly. (Applause.)

And I must say, there was not a lot of applause. (Laughter.) But it was the right thing to do. (Applause.) And as a result, today there is no doubt -- anywhere in the world -- that the United States will insist upon Israel&rsquos security and legitimacy. (Applause.) That will be true as we continue our efforts to pursue -- in the pursuit of peace. And that will be true when it comes to the issue that is such a focus for all of us today: Iran&rsquos nuclear program -- a threat that has the potential to bring together the worst rhetoric about Israel&rsquos destruction with the world&rsquos most dangerous weapons.

Let&rsquos begin with a basic truth that you all understand: No Israeli government can tolerate a nuclear weapon in the hands of a regime that denies the Holocaust, threatens to wipe Israel off the map, and sponsors terrorist groups committed to Israel&rsquos destruction. (Applause.) And so I understand the profound historical obligation that weighs on the shoulders of Bibi Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, and all of Israel&rsquos leaders.

A nuclear-armed Iran is completely counter to Israel&rsquos security interests. But it is also counter to the national security interests of the United States. (Applause.)

Indeed, the entire world has an interest in preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. A nuclear-armed Iran would thoroughly undermine the non-proliferation regime that we've done so much to build. There are risks that an Iranian nuclear weapon could fall into the hands of a terrorist organization. It is almost certain that others in the region would feel compelled to get their own nuclear weapon, triggering an arms race in one of the world's most volatile regions. It would embolden a regime that has brutalized its own people, and it would embolden Iran&rsquos proxies, who have carried out terrorist attacks from the Levant to southwest Asia.

And that is why, four years ago, I made a commitment to the American people, and said that we would use all elements of American power to pressure Iran and prevent it from acquiring a nuclear weapon. And that is what we have done. (Applause.)

When I took office, the efforts to apply pressure on Iran were in tatters. Iran had gone from zero centrifuges spinning to thousands, without facing broad pushback from the world. In the region, Iran was ascendant -- increasingly popular, and extending its reach. In other words, the Iranian leadership was united and on the move, and the international community was divided about how to go forward.

And so from my very first months in office, we put forward a very clear choice to the Iranian regime: a path that would allow them to rejoin the community of nations if they meet their international obligations, or a path that leads to an escalating series of consequences if they don't. In fact, our policy of engagement -- quickly rebuffed by the Iranian regime -- allowed us to rally the international community as never before, to expose Iran&rsquos intransigence, and to apply pressure that goes far beyond anything that the United States could do on our own.

Because of our efforts, Iran is under greater pressure than ever before. Some of you will recall, people predicted that Russia and China wouldn&rsquot join us to move toward pressure. They did. And in 2010 the U.N. Security Council overwhelmingly supported a comprehensive sanctions effort. Few thought that sanctions could have an immediate bite on the Iranian regime. They have, slowing the Iranian nuclear program and virtually grinding the Iranian economy to a halt in 2011. Many questioned whether we could hold our coalition together as we moved against Iran&rsquos Central Bank and oil exports. But our friends in Europe and Asia and elsewhere are joining us. And in 2012, the Iranian government faces the prospect of even more crippling sanctions.

That is where we are today -- because of our work. Iran is isolated, its leadership divided and under pressure. And by the way, the Arab Spring has only increased these trends, as the hypocrisy of the Iranian regime is exposed, and its ally -- the Assad regime -- is crumbling.

Of course, so long as Iran fails to meet its obligations, this problem remains unresolved. The effective implementation of our policy is not enough -- we must accomplish our objective. (Applause.) And in that effort, I firmly believe that an opportunity still remains for diplomacy -- backed by pressure -- to succeed.

The United States and Israel both assess that Iran does not yet have a nuclear weapon, and we are exceedingly vigilant in monitoring their program. Now, the international community has a responsibility to use the time and space that exists. Sanctions are continuing to increase, and this July -- thanks to our diplomatic coordination -- a European ban on Iranian oil imports will take hold. (Applause.) Faced with these increasingly dire consequences, Iran&rsquos leaders still have the opportunity to make the right decision. They can choose a path that brings them back into the community of nations, or they can continue down a dead end.

And given their history, there are, of course, no guarantees that the Iranian regime will make the right choice. But both Israel and the United States have an interest in seeing this challenge resolved diplomatically. After all, the only way to truly solve this problem is for the Iranian government to make a decision to forsake nuclear weapons. That&rsquos what history tells us.

Moreover, as President and Commander-in-Chief, I have a deeply held preference for peace over war. (Applause.) I have sent men and women into harm&rsquos way. I've seen the consequences of those decisions in the eyes of those I meet who've come back gravely wounded, and the absence of those who don&rsquot make it home. Long after I leave this office, I will remember those moments as the most searing of my presidency. And for this reason, as part of my solemn obligation to the American people, I will only use force when the time and circumstances demand it. And I know that Israeli leaders also know all too well the costs and consequences of war, even as they recognize their obligation to defend their country.

We all prefer to resolve this issue diplomatically. Having said that, Iran&rsquos leaders should have no doubt about the resolve of the United States -- (applause) -- just as they should not doubt Israel&rsquos sovereign right to make its own decisions about what is required to meet its security needs. (Applause.)

I have said that when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say. (Applause.) That includes all elements of American power: A political effort aimed at isolating Iran a diplomatic effort to sustain our coalition and ensure that the Iranian program is monitored an economic effort that imposes crippling sanctions and, yes, a military effort to be prepared for any contingency. (Applause.)

Iran&rsquos leaders should understand that I do not have a policy of containment I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. (Applause.) And as I have made clear time and again during the course of my presidency, I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests. (Applause.)

Moving forward, I would ask that we all remember the weightiness of these issues the stakes involved for Israel, for America, and for the world. Already, there is too much loose talk of war. Over the last few weeks, such talk has only benefited the Iranian government, by driving up the price of oil, which they depend on to fund their nuclear program. For the sake of Israel&rsquos security, America&rsquos security, and the peace and security of the world, now is not the time for bluster. Now is the time to let our increased pressure sink in, and to sustain the broad international coalition we have built. Now is the time to heed the timeless advice from Teddy Roosevelt: Speak softly carry a big stick. (Applause.) And as we do, rest assured that the Iranian government will know our resolve, and that our coordination with Israel will continue.

These are challenging times. But we've been through challenging times before, and the United States and Israel have come through them together. Because of our cooperation, citizens in both our countries have benefited from the bonds that bring us together. I'm proud to be one of those people. In the past, I've shared in this forum just why those bonds are so personal for me: the stories of a great uncle who helped liberate Buchenwald, to my memories of returning there with Elie Wiesel from sharing books with President Peres to sharing seders with my young staff in a tradition that started on the campaign trail and continues in the White House from the countless friends I know in this room to the concept of tikkun olam that has enriched and guided my life. (Applause.)

As Harry Truman understood, Israel&rsquos story is one of hope. We may not agree on every single issue -- no two nations do, and our democracies contain a vibrant diversity of views. But we agree on the big things -- the things that matter. And together, we are working to build a better world -- one where our people can live free from fear one where peace is founded upon justice one where our children can know a future that is more hopeful than the present.

There is no shortage of speeches on the friendship between the United States and Israel. But I'm also mindful of the proverb, "A man is judged by his deeds, not his words." So if you want to know where my heart lies, look no further than what I have done -- to stand up for Israel to secure both of our countries and to see that the rough waters of our time lead to a peaceful and prosperous shore. (Applause.)

Thank you very much, everybody. God bless you. God bless the people of Israel. God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)