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As Obama pledges to have Israel's back, Netanyahu says it will be 'master of its fate'
Published March 05, 2012
WASHINGTON – As
allies closely monitor Iran's movements toward becoming a member of the
nuclear club, President Obama assured Israel's leader on Monday that
the United States "will always have Israel's back" even while pursuing a
"window that allows for a diplomatic resolution."
Meeting at the White House a day after Obama
addressed the nation's top Israel lobby, the American-Israel Public
Affairs Committee, the two agreed that diplomacy is the best route for
now although Benjamin Netanyahu stressed that his nation reserves the
right to defend itself.
"When I say all options are on the table I
mean it. Having said that I know both the prime minister and I prefer to
solve this diplomatically," Obama said. The U.S. will consider all
options in confronting what it sees as the unacceptable outcome of an
Iranian bomb, he added.
"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," Obama said.
While the prime minister offered gratitude, he insisted Israel will be the "master of its fate."
"Israel must have the ability always to
defend itself, by itself, against any threat," Netanyahu said, echoing
the president's remarks to Sunday's annual conference.
"When it comes to Israel's security, Israel
has the right -- a 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,"
The two meet as a growing sense of urgency
emerges in Israel that Iran is close to obtaining a long-sought nuclear
weapon. Iran insists that its nuclear efforts are for peaceful purposes
only, even as it threatens to blow Israel off the map.
Obama is trying to avert an Israeli strike
that could come this spring, and which the United States sees as
dangerously premature. U.S. officials believe that while Tehran has the
capability to build a nuclear weapon, it has not yet decided to do so.
The president was expected to tell Netanyahu
in private at the White House that although the U.S. is committed to
Israel's security it does not want to be dragged into another war. Obama
is unlikely to spell out U.S. "red lines" that would trigger a military
response, despite Israeli -- and some congressional -- pressure to do
The U.S. has won international sanctions on
Iran in the United Nations and pledges that more are on the way. But
that approach leaves Israel in a precarious spot. If Iran moves
underground, literally, the Jewish state will lose its opportunity to
shut down the facilities before the weapons are developed.
Netanyahu has not publicly backed a military
strike, but his government spurned arguments from top U.S. national
security leaders that a preemptive attack would fail.
Netanyahu suggested Monday that failure to
prevent Iran from achieving weapons is as problematic for the U.S. as it
is for Israel.
"You know, for them, you're the Great Satan,
we're the Little Satan. For them, we are you and you are 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," he said.
The top U.S. military officer recently
called a unilateral strike "imprudent," a mild catchall for the
chain-reaction of oil price hikes, Iranian retaliation, terror strikes
and a possible wider Mideast war that U.S. officials fear could flow
from an Israeli strike.
In citing the need to stop Iran, Israel
points to the potential for the Islamic Republic to pass its weapons to
terror groups like Hezbollah and Hamas, which already use ballistic
missiles to strike Israel's population centers near the borders. Israel
also fears a nuclear Iran would touch off an atomic weapons race in a
region hostile to Israel's existence.
The head of the U.N. nuclear agency said
Monday his organization has "serious concerns" that Iran may be hiding
secret atomic weapons work, as he acknowledged failure in his latest
attempt to probe such suspicions and listed recent atomic advances by
"The agency continues to have serious
concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear
program," International Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano said in
The Associated Press contributed to this report.