Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu warned President Barack Obama not to be misled by recent conciliatory gestures from Iran that have led the latter's administration to pursue talks aimed at resolving Iran's nuclear weaponizaiton program. Following their meeting on September 30, Netanyahu said that the Islamic Republic's “conciliatory words must be met with real actions.” Speaking after the White House tete-a-tete, Netanyahu said “What’s the bottom line? Iran must fully dismantle its nuclear program."
The two leaders also discussed the peace process involving Israel and Palestinian authorities, as well as a UN Security Council resolution led by the United States that demands that Syria turn over control of its chemical weapons to international inspectors by mid-2014.
Netanyahu's visit to the White House came three days after Obama spoke for 15 minutes on the phone to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, marking the first time that the leaders of the two countries held direct talks since the Islamic revolution in 1979. Rouhani subsequently turned down an opportunity to meet Obama personally.
Obama said last week that Secretary of State John F. Kerry will negotiate with Iran over its uranium-enrichment program, which the United States, Israel and other nations think is a cover to develop nuclear weapons. Iranian officials have denied that it seeks to manufacture enough weapons-grade uranium with its centrifuges at an underground facility that can be used for a nuclear weapon.
Obama said he had told Netanyahu that international economic sanctions had pressured the Iranian government to negotiate over its nuclear program. “We have to test diplomacy,” Obama said. He added that Iran must negotiate in good faith and that he would not take any military option off the table if progress did not come about. Netanyahu called on Obama to tighten sanctions if Iran delays the diplomatic process or does not live up to a negotiated agreement.
“Both the prime minister and I agree, since I came into office, that it is imperative that Iran not possess a nuclear weapon,” Obama said. “We do not want to trigger a nuclear arms race in the most volatile region in the world.”
“I do believe that there is a basis for resolution,” Obama told reporters in Washington after he spoke telephonically with Rouhani. “Iran’s supreme leader has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons. President Rouhani has indicated that Iran will never develop nuclear weapons.”
Obama has sought to reassure Israel that the United States would demand concrete steps on the part of Iran regarding any nuclear pact and has emphasized that his Middle East priorities in his second term include a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. According to the World Jewish Congress, Israeli leaders fear that the international community, and the United States in particular, is in danger of being duped by the Iranians.
An Israeli official compared the Americans to tourists wandering into a Middle East bazaar. “The Persians have been using these tactics for thousands of years, before America came to be,” a senior Israeli official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, was quoted as saying by the Washington Post. “We are worried Obama is looking for a way out.”
Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. He is also a freelance translator.