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Panetta asks Israel for patience on Iran

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has reassured Israel that the US is serious about stopping Iran's nuclear program, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Tehran is unfazed by diplomatic efforts.

In meetings with both Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Ehud Barak, the US defense secretary urged Israel to give diplomacy with Iran another chance, while the Israeli government made it very clear that its patience with Iran is running out.

"Right now the Iranian regime believes that the international community does not have the will to stop its nuclear program," Netanyahu said at the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem, after meeting with Panetta.

"This must change, and it must change quickly because time to resolve this issue peacefully is running out."

Earlier in the day, after meeting with Barak, Panetta had insisted that the US and other Western nations must exhaust all diplomatic options with Iran first. But he also reassured Israel that military intervention is still on the table as a last-resort option.

"They [the Iranians] can either negotiate in a way that tries to resolve these issues and has them abiding by international rules and requirements and giving up their effort to develop their nuclear capability," Panetta said.

"But if they don't, and if they continue to make the decision to proceed with a nuclear weapon ... we have options that we are prepared to implement to ensure that does not happen."

Israel not convinced

Both Barak and Netanyahu remain skeptical, and the Israeli prime minister has hinted that his country will go it alone if necessary.

With "matters that have to do with our destiny, with our very existence, we do not put our faith in the hands of others, even our best of friends," Netanyahu told Channel 2 TV on Tuesday.

Panetta said that questions about what was in Israel's national security interest "is something that must be left up to the Israelis," when asked by reporters what the Obama administration thought of unilateral action on Israel's part.

Panetta was also set to meet Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem later on Wednesday.

ng/pfd (AP, AFP)