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Obama and Netanyahu to discuss Iran at talks today

Yesterday, Obama warned that “loose talk of war” only plays into Iran’s hands. The leaders will hold a private meeting at the White House today.

File photo
File photo
Image: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File

US PRESIDENT BARACK Obama says he doesn’t want war but insists he would attack Iran if that was the only option left to stop that nation from getting a nuclear weapon.

“Loose talk of war” only plays into Iran’s hands, Obama said yesterday. Today, he will try to persuade Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to slow quickening pressure among many in his hawkish government to attack Iran’s disputed nuclear development sites.

Obama is trying to avert an Israeli strike that could come this spring, and which the United States sees as dangerously premature.

The president is expected to tell Netanyahu in private at the White House that although the US is committed to Israel’s security it does not want to be dragged into another war. Obama is unlikely to spell out US “red lines” that would trigger a military response, despite Israeli pressure to do so.

US officials believe that while Tehran has the capability to build a nuclear weapon, it has not yet decided to do so. They want to give sanctions time to pressure Iran to give up any military nuclear ambitions. Israel says the threat is too great to wait and many officials there are advocating a pre-emptive strike.

Obama did not directly call on Israel to stand down, and made a point of saying Israel should always have the right to defend itself as it sees fit.

Obama is unlikely to persuade Netanyahu that economic sanctions and diplomacy are enough to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and he is unlikely to win any new concessions from Netanyahu on peace talks, the issue that drew bad blood between the two men in previous meetings and led the Israeli leader to publicly scold Obama last year.

Netanyahu has not publicly backed a military strike, but his government spurned arguments from top US national security leaders that a preemptive attack would fail.

Obama said:

Now is not the time for bluster. Now is the time to let our increased pressure sink in.

Obama framed military force as a last resort, not the next option at a time when sanctions are squeezing Iran. He said just the talk of war has driven up the price of oil to the benefit of Iran.

Although Israel says it hasn’t decided whether to strike, it has signaled readiness to do so within the next several months. The top US military officer recently called a unilateral strike “imprudent,” a mild catchall for the chain-reaction of oil price hikes, Iranian retaliation, terror strikes and a possible wider Mideast war that US officials fear could flow from an Israeli strike.

Israel says a nuclear-armed Iran would be a threat to its existence. It cites Iranian leaders’ repeated calls for Israel’s destruction, support for anti-Israel militant groups and its arsenal of ballistic missiles that are already capable of striking Israel. Israel also fears a nuclear Iran would touch off an atomic weapons race in a region hostile to Israel’s existence.

Addressing the powerful pro-Israel lobby, Obama delivered messages to multiple political audiences: Israel, Iran, Jewish voters, a restless Congress, a wary international community and three Republican presidential contenders who will speak to the same group tomorrow.

Read: Obama says he’s not bluffing on possibility of Iran attack>

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Associated Press

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