Last Updated: Fri Mar 02, 2012 21:06 pm (KSA) 18:06 pm (GMT)

Netanyahu warns against talks with Iran; Obama says it will ‘play victim’ if attacked

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) will press President Barack Obama to stress the nuclear “red lines” that Iran must not cross. (File photo)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) will press President Barack Obama to stress the nuclear “red lines” that Iran must not cross. (File photo)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed on Friday the idea of renewed international negotiations with Iran aimed at preventing the country from building a nuclear weapon as U.S. President Barack Obama warned that a premature attack on Iran would allow it to play the “victim” in the nuclear crisis.

“It could do again what it has done before, it could pursue or exploit the talks as they’ve 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,” Netanyahu told a news conference in Ottawa after talks with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

“I think the international community should not fall into this trap,” he said, according to Reuters.

“I have not set down red lines to the United States and will not set down red lines,” he said. “I want to reserve Israel’s freedom to maneuver in light of threats, every country would demand that.”

Meanwhile, Obama warned that a premature attack on Iran would allow it to play the “victim” in the nuclear crisis, in remarks published Friday days before he meets Netanyahu.

In some of his toughest comments yet on Tehran’s nuclear drive, Obama also warned Israel and Iran should take seriously possible U.S. action against Iranian nuclear facilities if sanctions fail to stop the country’s atomic ambitions.

“I think that the Israeli government recognizes that, as president of the United States, I don’t bluff,” Obama told the Atlantic Monthly magazine.

“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.”

Netanyahu’s government has maintained that all options remain on the table with regard to action on Iran, but Obama issued a blunt warning against a premature strike.

“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?” Obama said.

Even if Israel were not a specific target of Iran’s wrath, Obama said “it would still be a profound national-security interest of the United States to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.”

He also spoke of the “profound” risks of an Iranian nuclear weapon falling into terrorists' hands, and warned of "the prospect of a nuclear arms race in the most volatile region in the world, one that is rife with unstable governments and sectarian tensions.

“And it would also provide Iran the additional capability to sponsor and protect its proxies in carrying out terrorist attacks because they are less fearful of retaliation,” he said.

Just days away from the talks between Obama and Netanyahu, their aides were scrambling to bridge differences over what Washington fears could be an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear sites.

Netanyahu will press Obama, who is facing a presidential election campaign, to stress the nuclear “red lines” that Iran must not cross, Israeli officials say, according to Reuters.

Obama is scheduled to address the annual conference of the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC on March 4, one day before his meeting with Netanyahu.

Netanyahu was also to deliver a speech at the meeting of the AIPAC lobby on the evening of March 5, after meeting Obama.

U.S. politicians often flock to AIPAC to gain backing and air their pro-Israel positions -- with the November election approaching, this year’s event is set to be even more hotly political than usual.

In his address to the group last year, Obama pledged to stand by the Jewish state through thick and thin, stressing Washington’s “ironclad” commitment to Israel’s security.

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