Netanyahu To Tell Obama: 'Time Is Running Out' on Iran

By Barak Ravid and Aluf Benn (Haaretz)

Published May 18, 2009.
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will use his meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday to stress that “time is running out” for stopping Iran’s nuclear program, so Obama must not spend more than a few months on his planned dialogue with Tehran unless real progress is achieved.

If progress is not achieved within a few months, the United States must move quickly to more aggressive measures against Iran, Netanyahu will say.

The prime minister’s aides say he is encouraged by an interview in Newsweek Sunday in which Obama says he is not “naive” about Iran and is not taking “any options off the table.” The purpose of the planned dialogue is to “offer Iran an opportunity to align itself with international norms,” according to Obama. The president signaled that he has no intention of pursuing regime change in Iran, but stressed that Iran should be able “to maintain its Islamic character” while not being “a threat to its neighbors.”

He said he understands why Israel views Iran as an “existential threat,” and that because of this, Israelis’ “calculation of costs and benefits are going to be more acute. They’re right there in range, and I don’t think it’s my place to determine for the Israelis what their security needs are.” Obama can “make an argument” that his approach “offers the prospect of security, not just for the United States but also for Israel, that is superior to some of the other alternatives.”

Iran will be a key issue on Netanyahu’s agenda for the meeting. While he does not oppose the planned dialogue, he wants more details on how it will be conducted. Israel says the dialogue must include clear conditions, including on Iran’s nuclear activity during the talks, and a clear time limit. This view is shared by some senior American officials, including the special envoy on Iran, Dennis Ross. Israel says the time limit should be around three months.

National Security Council chairman Uzi Arad, who is accompanying Netanyahu, told reporters Sunday that “no issue is more important for Israel” than Iran, “and the U.S. administration is aware of this. There’s a feeling of great urgency, and we’re in a race against time.”

The Americans understand the timeline very well, and “neither side will dictate to the other,” Arad added.

On another key issue, Israeli-Palestinian talks, Netanyahu’s aides say he does not intend to accede to America’s request that he express support for a two-state solution, which is likely to lead to conflict.

“There may be differences of opinion” with Obama, Arad acknowledged, “but the practical approach of both parties will determine what happens.”

Netanyahu will present a series of security demands that he views as essential to any final-status agreement, including demilitarization of the West Bank and Israeli control of its airspace. He will cite Hamas’ control of Gaza as a major barrier to progress.

On the settlements, he will propose establishing a bilateral Israeli-American committee to reach understandings on reining in construction and evacuating outposts. He will also demand that such Israeli steps be matched by Palestinian progress on fighting terror.

The Palestinian Authority, the Arab states and Europe are all urging Obama to pressure Israel to stop settlement construction, and many senior administration officials and senior Democrats in Congress support this approach.

Netanyahu has said he will not build new settlements, but will permit “natural growth” in existing ones.


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