The next 48 hours will be critical for Israel, U.S. coordination on Iran • Presidents Peres and Obama set to address members of AIPAC • On Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will ask Obama to present an ultimatum to Iran, and quickly.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama are scheduled to meet on Monday in Washington to discuss the Iranian issue and decide what the next steps should be in response to Iran’s push toward uranium enrichment and potential acquisition of nuclear weapons. Israeli officials reiterated on Friday that Iran was biding its time while it continued to develop nuclear weapons. U.S. government officials, on the other hand, have been sending Israel a message to forget about 2012, and focus on next year as far as plans for more forceful measures against Iran.
It is believed that in his meeting with Obama on Monday morning, Netanyahu will say that the U.S. must present an ultimatum to Iran immediately and tell the Iranian government that if it does not comply with the conditions of the ultimatum, the only remaining option will be a military strike.
In a press conference together with Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper on Friday, Netanyahu outlined what he believed should be said to the Iranians: “They must shut down their facility near Qom, stop their uranium enrichment program and transfer all the material they have outside their country. And when I say all the material, I mean all the material, from 3.5% and up,” Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu added that the ultimatum should have a short timetable since time was running out to stop Iran’s nuclear program. “Each day is bringing the danger closer, and we understand that the worst may happen,” he said. “What we have warned against may soon become reality. The Iranians could do again what they have done before, they could pursue or exploit the talks as they have done in the past to deceive and delay so that they can continue to advance their nuclear program and get to the nuclear finish line by running up the clock, so to speak. I think the international community should not fall into this trap.”
Meanwhile, in a report in Sunday’s New York Times entitled “Israel’s backers in AIPAC Press Obama to Harden Iran Policy,” White House correspondent Mark Landler wrote that several high-level U.S. intelligence sources are reporting that Iran has no intention of further pursuing nuclear weapons development. “Recent accessments by American spy agencies have reaffirmed intelligence findings in 2007 and 2010 that concluded that Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program,” Landler wrote.
The same New York Times report also said that Obama has no plans “to lay down new red lines on Iran,” and that he was neither ready nor willing to sanction an attack on Iran in order to prevent it from getting to the point where it could manufacture a nuclear weapon.
Commenting on the sanctions against Iran during Friday’s press conference, Netanyahu said, “Iran is suffering now due to the economic sanctions and will perhaps agree to talks. We all want to achieve a peaceful solution that will result in Iran relinquishing its nuclear program. I have not drawn red lines, and I will not draw red lines for the U.S. We want to preserve Israel’s operative independence against threats of removing us from the global map.”
Harper told Netanyahu, “We, of course, recognize the right of Israel to defend itself as a sovereign state, as a Jewish state. That said, we want to see a peaceful resolution of this issue. And we want to see every action taken to get a peaceful resolution of the situation.”
Israeli officials expressed concern on Friday that the U.S. did not intend to place a time limit on possible upcoming talks with Iran. Although the U.S. has made it clear that the military option will be used if sanctions do not force Iran to abandon its nuclear program, U.S. officials have asked Israel to drop its urgency to operate militarily against Iran in 2012.
Israeli officials have recently stated that both Israel and the U.S. are in possession of identical information on the status of Iran’s nuclear progress and have also arrived at the same conclusions on the matter, which to Israeli officials means the reason the U.S. is not pushing the issue more urgently is due to the U.S. presidential election year.
U.S. officials responded however, that it was not the upcoming election that was holding them back, but rather the current parliamentary elections and future presidential elections in Iran. According to U.S. officials, a significant rift is appearing among Iran’s leaders, and especially between Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which to the U.S. indicates that the sanctions are working.
After a recent visit to the U.S. by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, during which he met with U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Vice President Joe Biden, National Security Adviser Tom Donilon and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Israeli officials claimed that the gaps between the two country’s positions were significantly smaller than the picture painted by the media, and the U.S. was preparing its military option against Iran now more than ever.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, currently visiting Bulgaria, said on Friday, “We cannot make peace with an Iranian regime that supports terrorism and is busy acquiring nuclear weapons capability. The international community must prove that it can handle this situation effectively. The sanctions imposed on Iran constitute a step in the right direction, but they still have not caused Iran’s leaders to give up their nuclear program.”
In an interview with French newspaper Le Monde on Friday, Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor (Likud) said that sanctions against Iran could work if the pressure was raised enough. Meridor said that if the U.S. made Iran its top priority, it could convince the Russians to join in and also impose sanctions against Iran.
In an interview with the U.S.-based Atlantic newspaper published on Saturday, Obama was quoted as saying, “I think that the Israeli government recognizes that, as president of the United States, I don’t bluff. I also don’t, as a matter of sound policy, go around advertising exactly what our intentions are. But I think both the Iranian and the Israeli governments recognize that when the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say.”
Commenting on claims that the president does not sincerely support Israel’s position on Iran, Obama told the Atlantic, “Every single commitment I have made to the state of Israel and its security, I have kept. Why is it that despite me never failing to support Israel on every single problem that they’ve had over the last three years, that there are still questions about that?”
Obama reportedly questioned a military response to Iran’s nuclear progress, saying, “At a time when there is not a lot of sympathy for Iran and its only real ally [Syria] is on the ropes, do we want a distraction in which suddenly Iran can portray itself as a victim?”
On his relationship with Netanyahu, Obama said, “One thing that I have found in working with Prime Minister Netanyahu is that we can be very frank with each other, very blunt with each other, very honest with each other. For the most part, when we have differences, they are tactical and not strategic.”
As international pressure mounts against Tehran, and Israeli and U.S. officials continue to meet and discuss ways to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Turkey is set to join in and try its hand at stopping Iran’s nuclear program. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will fly to Tehran at the end of the month and meet with the Iranian leadership to discuss the nuclear issue, Erdogan’s political adviser said on Saturday.
Erdogan is scheduled to visit Iran after a two-day international nuclear security summit in Seoul, South Korea, starting March 26. The Turkish prime minister will reportedly meet Khamenei and Ahmadinejad and discuss the topic of resuming talks with the West, which ended one year ago.