Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu has sat down for talks in Washington with his US counterpart Barack Obama. Iran and its alleged atomic ambitions are sure to top the agenda, a day after Obama discouraged "loose talk of war."
US President Barack Obama welcomed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into the White House on Monday, with the prospect of war with Iran likely to dominate the leaders' time.
"Our commitment to the security of Israel is rock solid," Obama said at the Monday meeting. "The United States will always have Israel's back."
Obama said he understood why it was unacceptable from Israel's perspective that Iran obtain nuclear weapons, adding that Washington also wanted to avert a nuclear arms race in one of the most volatile regions in the world. The US president also said, however, that he believed there was still "a window that allows for a diplomatic resolution" to the problems in Iran - citing existing sanctions against the regime in Tehran.
Netanyahu on Monday thanked his US counterpart for "that strong speech yesterday," and reiterated the importance of the relationship between Israel and the US.
"So if there's one thing that stands out clearly in the Middle East today, it's that Israel and America stand together," Netanyahu said, adding however that "Israel must reserve the right to defend itself."
Netanyahu won't rule out military action
Israel and the US believe that the government in Tehran is seeking a nuclear weapon, charges Iran denies, with the conservative elements of Netanyahu's government saying that time is running out for the international community to act.
Currently, a string of sanctions mainly targeting the oil and finance sectors have been implemented against Iranian leaders.
"Iran's leaders should know that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And as I've 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," Obama said in his Sunday evening speech.
Yet the US president also called for time to allow the existing sanctions against Iran to work, adding that with world security in mind, "now is not the time for bluster," an apparent reference to repeated rumors of a pre-emptive Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities.
While Israel considers Iran's nuclear program to be an existential threat, Obama's administration is also grappling with ongoing military engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the prospect of a presidential election in November.
Just ahead of Obama and Netanyahu's talks, the UN's nuclear watchdog again said that it had "serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear program." International Atomic Energy Agency director general Yukiya Amano addressed the organization's board of governors in Vienna, also mentioning that "activities" underway at the Parchin site - where IAEA inspectors were not allowed in a recent visit - meant it would be best to look at the site as soon as possible.
msh/sjt (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)