Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Iran is using negotiations over its nuclear program to stall for time to develop an atomic weapon, even as Vice President Joe Biden said the U.S. favors diplomacy to stop Iran from getting one.
“Diplomacy has not worked,” Netanyahu, speaking via satellite, today told the largest gathering in Washington of a pro-Israel U.S. lobbying group. Iran is “running out the clock,” he said. “It has used negotiations, including the most recent ones, in order to buy time to press ahead with its nuclear program.”
Biden, who addressed the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual conference in person, said the Obama administration’s “strong preference” is for a diplomatic deal, which it believes is possible, to resolve international concerns that Iran is using its atomic energy program as a cover for a secret pursuit of nuclear weapons.
Biden said that if it became necessary to use force to stop Iran from acquiring an atomic weapon, the U.S. and Israel would have proved to the world that “we did everything in our power” to avoid a military conflict.
If Iran seeks a weapon despite diplomacy and sanctions, President Barack Obama “is not bluffing” when he says that “all options, including military force, are on the table,” Biden said in a speech punctuated by rounds of applause. He said the U.S. pledge is to “prevent” Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, “not contain” a nuclear-armed Iran.
Stopping Iran from pursuing such weapons will top the agenda when Obama visits Israel this month, Netanyahu said in his remarks.
“Words alone will not stop Iran; sanctions alone will not stop Iran,” the Israeli leader said. “Sanctions must be coupled with a clear and credible military threat if diplomacy and sanctions fail.”
Netanyahu said Iran hasn’t yet crossed the “red line” that he laid out in a speech at the United Nations last September, meaning the Islamic Republic hasn’t stockpiled enough medium-enriched uranium to be further enriched into bomb-grade fuel for a nuclear weapon. At the same time, the Israeli leader said, “Iran is getting closer to that red line.”
World powers led by the U.S. are seeking a deal to curb the country’s nuclear program, which they say may have a secret military dimension, in return for the removal of economic sanctions imposed to punish Iran for illicit atomic work.
“The prime minister made clear that the gaps between his position on Iran and President Obama’s remain considerable,” Shimon Stein, a research fellow at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, said in a telephone interview.
“We may face some more friction down the road between the U.S. and Israel on this issue,” said Stein, a former Israeli ambassador to Germany.
Iran hailed what it called a positive “turning point” last week after two days of negotiations with six world powers over the Islamic Republic’s disputed nuclear program, as Western officials sounded a cautious note and urged concrete steps toward a deal at follow-up talks in March and April.
In remarks today in Riyadh with the Saudi foreign minister, Secretary of State John Kerry repeated the U.S. priority on negotiations to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, while cautioning that time is running out for talks.
“We both prefer diplomacy as the first choice,” Kerry said. “But the window for a diplomatic solution simply cannot, by definition, remain open indefinitely. There is time to resolve this issue, providing that Iranians are prepared to engage seriously.”
Iran was the No. 6 producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. West Texas Intermediate crude fell below $90 a barrel for the first time this year, with crude for April delivery slipping to $89.33 in intraday trading today. WTI settled at $90.12, the lowest close since Dec. 24 as service industries in China expanded at the weakest pace in five months.
Netanyahu, who has had tense relations with White House over issues including Iran and Israel’s expansion of settlements in the West Bank, said Obama’s first visit to Israel as president will give the Israeli leader and public “an opportunity to express our appreciation for what he has done for Israel.”
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