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Such a meeting likely would not go down well with Israel, where some officials have expressed dismay about how Obama’s handling of the Syria crisis might affect the Iranian standoff. They fear that his failure to follow through with threatened military strikes in Syria could encourage Iran to press on with its nuclear work.
The United States and Israel accuse Iran of seeking to develop a nuclear weapons capability. Iran says its program is entirely peaceful and for power generation purposes.
The U.S.-Israeli consultations, which were first reported on the New York Times website late on Friday, are expected to intensify as both sides lay the groundwork for a Sept. 30 Oval Office meeting between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a U.S. official said.
OUTREACH BOTH PUBLIC AND PRIVATE
As part of a public outreach parallel to the private contacts, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, told the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv that Washington recognized that a nuclear-armed Iran would be “much more dangerous” than Syria’s chemical weapons.
Despite that, Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz told another Israeli newspaper “there is no more time” for negotiations between Iran and world powers and warned that Tehran was on course to develop a nuclear bomb within six months.
That followed a statement from Netanyahu’s office on Thursday that Rouhani’s pledge in a U.S. television interview that Iran would never develop a nuclear weapon amounted to “fraudulent words” that should fool no one.
On Friday, Rhodes sought to placate Israeli concerns, saying there was “not an open-ended window for diplomacy” with Rouhani, a relative moderate who took office in August.
But Rhodes insisted there was still “time and space” for a peaceful resolution, possibly a veiled message to Israel against any kind of go-it-alone military action to target Iran’s nuclear sites as threatened in the past.
In Washington, Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, accused Rouhani of trying to “spin out more time” to pursue nuclear weapons advances.
Oren echoed White House assertions that it was the threat of U.S. military action that drove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to agree to get rid of his chemical weapons stockpile, and insisted in an interview that “the American military threat to Iran has to be endowed with that same credibility.”
Elliott Abrams, a Middle East adviser under Republican former President George W. Bush, said Obama had undercut his leverage with Iran by striking a deal with Russia on Syria’s chemical weapons rather than launching the military strike that he appeared poised to order in late August.
“What happened with regards to Syria (suggests) that the Americans don’t want any kind of military engagement, so all options are not on the table with regards to Iran,” said Abrams, now at the Council on Foreign Relations think-tank. “This makes an Israeli strike more likely. They may think the U.S. is out of the game.”
But some other analysts believe the chances of a unilateral Israeli strike have diminished significantly, not just because Rouhani’s overtures have raised hopes internationally for a negotiated end to the impasse. Netanyahu also has little support from the Israeli public for a go-it-alone approach.