US president Barack Obama has told Israelis that the US has significant capabilities to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and that he was keeping all options on the table.
In an interview with Israeli television broadcast yesterday, ahead of his visit next week, Obama said the US estimated it would take Iran “over a year or so” to develop a nuclear weapon, once Tehran decided to pursue one.
He also acknowledged the differences he has had with Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, but said the foundation of bilateral ties was strong, as was his commitment to Israel’s security.
He said that he and Netanyahu shared a “terrific, business-like relationship”, and referred to the Israeli leader as Bibi, his popular nickname.
Regarding the long-stalled peace process with the Palestinians, Obama spoke somewhat vaguely, saying he was coming to listen during meetings he would hold with Netanyahu and palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.
Obama’s first presidential visit to Israel comes at the onset of spring — the “red line” previously set by Netanyahu for attacking Iran’s nuclear sites.
Iran denies it is seeking a bomb and says its nuclear programme is solely for peaceful purposes.
“We think that it would take over a year or so for Iran to actually develop a nuclear weapon, but obviously we don’t want to cut it too close,” Obama said.
Asked if he would order an attack on Iran should diplomacy fail, he said: “When I say that all options are on the table, all options are on the table.
“The US obviously has significant capabilities but our goal here is to make sure that Iran does not possess a nuclear weapon that could threaten Israel or could trigger an arms race in the region.”
Obama faces the challenge of overcoming Israeli suspicions that have lingered since his early days in office when he pressed Netanyahu for a freeze on settlement expansion and launched a short-lived outreach to Tehran, Israel’s arch-foe.
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