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Israel’s Netanyahu to press Obama for no let-up on Iran pressure

By   /   September 30, 2013  /   No Comments

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This Sept. 1, 2013 file photo shows Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu  during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Israel. (AP Photo/Abir Sultan,  Pool, file)

Reuters

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu  will warn President Barack Obama  in White House talks on  Monday that Iran’s diplomatic “sweet talk” cannot be trusted and will urge him  to keep up the pressure to prevent Tehran  from being able to make a nuclear bomb.

While Obama will attempt to reassure Netanyahu that he will not act  prematurely to ease sanctions on Iran, growing signs of a U.S.-Iranian thaw have  rattled Israel  and could make for a tense encounter  between the two leaders, who have not always seen eye-to-eye on the Iranian  nuclear dispute.

They will meet in Washington three days after Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani  spoke by telephone in the  highest-level contact between the countries in more than three decades. The call  fueled hopes for a resolution of Iran’s decade-old nuclear standoff with the  West.

“Netanyahu does not care that he is the only one ruining the party,” an  Israeli official said.

Obama is expected to voice sympathy for Israel’s skepticism about Iran, its  longtime enemy, but will make clear his determination to test Rouhani’s  intentions and will press Netanyahu for time to do so, U.S. officials say.

For his part, Netanyahu will tell Obama that tough economic sanctions have  succeeded in forcing Iran  back to the negotiating table and “they  should not be eased, quite the contrary, they should be tightened,” a second  Israeli official said.

Netanyahu will urge Obama to reject any concessions by the West and instead  demand specific steps by Iran, including shutting down its uranium enrichment  and plutonium projects and shipping out their fissile material. “He will tell  the president ‘better no deal than a bad deal,'” the official said.

The Obama administration has been vague on what concessions it wants from  Iran, and a source close to the White House said the president is expected to  resist Israeli pressure for a precise time limit for diplomacy to produce an  agreement.

Despite their differences behind closed doors, Obama and Netanyahu are  expected to try to project unity. Talks begin in the Oval Office at 11:15 a.m.  EDT/1515 GMT, ending with statements to a small pool of journalists, followed by  a working lunch.

Netanyahu spent Sunday holed up at his New York hotel working on a speech he  will deliver at the United Nations on Tuesday while his aides mostly stayed out  of the public eye.

“I will speak the truth. Facts must be stated in the face of the sweet talk  and the blitz of smiles,” Netanyahu said at the airport in Tel Aviv before  departing for the United States.

Signaling Netanyahu’s aim to counter Rouhani’s charm offensive with one of  his own, aides said the U.S.-educated Israeli leader will extend his visit by a  day to conduct a series of media interviews.

HISTORY OF STRAINED TIES

Obama and Netanyahu have a history of difficult encounters, including a  blowup in the Oval Office in 2011 when Netanyahu famously lectured the president  on Jewish history.

Iran strategy has strained relations between them before, most notably last  year when Netanyahu pushed back against U.S. pressure on Israel not to launch  its own pre-emptive attack on Iran’s nuclear sites.

Having secured a second term, Obama visited Israel in March, where he eased  the personal rift with Netanyahu and offered reassurances that he was determined  to deny Iran the means to make a bomb, something that Tehran denies it is  seeking.

But different clocks tick for the two allies. While they agree that Tehran  could make its first nuclear device in months if it were intent on doing so,  Israel warned last week this gap could shrink to weeks due to new Iranian  uranium centrifuges.

Limited in conventional military clout, Israel – believed to be the Middle  East’s only nuclear-armed power – would prefer the U.S. superpower takes lead  against Iran if diplomacy fails.

Yet Israelis watched worriedly as Obama stumbled in his bid to muster  domestic support for attacking Syria in reprisal over Damascus’s suspected use  of chemical weapons on Aug. 21.

Netanyahu will look for proof of Obama’s commitment to confront Tehran with a  “credible military threat.” Obama insists he is not bluffing but has not been as  explicit as Israel wants.

However, neither does Netanyahu look any closer to launching a strike on Iran  alone, with Israeli public support lacking and questions about whether it would  be militarily effective.

In the meantime, Obama’s engagement with Iran could be limited by the  influence of the pro-Israel lobby in Washington and lawmakers who share  Netanyahu’s suspicion of Rouhani, a moderate cleric who took office in August  and conducted a public relations blitz at the United Nations last week.

Netanyahu could meet supporters on Capitol Hill on Monday.

Seeking to stress common ground, U.S. national security adviser Susan Rice  told CNN on Sunday the United States,  Israel and other allies “have been largely united in agreeing on the process  going forward” with Iran. But she acknowledged the path was unclear as  negotiations with Iran were not yet under way.

Further complicating matters is Obama’s reinvigorated push for a peace deal  between Israel and the Palestinians in talks that restarted earlier this year.  Middle East diplomacy is expected to figure more prominently in Monday’s meeting  than originally thought, after Obama listed it as a top priority in his address  to the United Nations on Tuesday.

 

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