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In an apparent effort to smooth over the disagreement, the White House said late on Tuesday that Obama and Netanyahu spoke by telephone for an hour - which would be a long chat for two world leaders.
“President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu reaffirmed that they are united in their determination to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and agreed to continue their close consultations going forward,” the White House said.
While loathe to discuss the dispute, U.S. officials said they have labored to try to stay on the same page with Israel on Iran, with the secretaries of state and defense and the White House national security adviser all making trips to Israel.
The central issues between the two countries are how much time to allow for a possible diplomatic solution to end Iran’s suspected pursuit of nuclear weapons, whether a military strike could durably neutralize Iran’s program and, if so, whether such a strike should be undertaken by Israel or the United States.
Iran denies that it is seeking nuclear weapons, saying its atomic program is solely for peaceful purposes such as power generation and medical uses.
Middle East analysts said the most likely explanations for Netanyahu’s public argument for Obama to set “red lines” are to make a case for an eventual Israeli strike against Iran or to push the United States closer to embracing a military option.
“Even though I think it would be wrong of the president to set red lines, as the prime minister is insisting that he do, nevertheless, it’s very important to calm the Israelis down,” said Martin Indyk, director of foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington.
“The most important person in this regard is Obama himself because he is the president and is therefore the best one to make it clear that he is absolutely true to his word that he has got their backs and he will not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons,” Indyk added.
“The best way for him to do that is for him to meet with the prime minister and come out and say it again,” he said. “It’s in the interests of everybody involved to provide Netanyahu with a ladder to climb down at this point and not meeting with the prime minister is a mistake even though it’s understandable.”