Obama Discusses Iran Nuclear Threat With Netanyahu in Phone Call

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photographer: Baz Ratner - Pool/Getty Images

President Barack Obama discussed the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, confronting a security issue that had raised tensions between the two allies.

During an hour-long phone call tonight, Obama and Netanyahu “reaffirmed that they are united in their determination to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” the White House said in a statement.

The conversation between the two leaders came in the midst of a public disagreement about how to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. The call followed a declaration today from Netanyahu that the U.S. has no “moral right” to restrain Israel from attacking Iran’s suspected weapons program as long as it doesn’t set any “red lines” for Iran.

Earlier, the Obama administration labeled as inaccurate reports in the Israeli press that Obama refused to meet with Netanyahu during the opening session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

“They’re simply not in the city at the same time,” National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said in an e-mailed response to questions.

The Israeli government was told Obama’s schedule didn’t allow time for a meeting with Netanyahu, according to an Israeli official.

Obama and Netanyahu “are in frequent contact” and Netanyahu will meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other senior officials during the visit, Vietor said.

Meeting Sought

The Israeli official, who asked not to be identified because he wasn’t authorized to speak on the matter, said that Israel approached the White House two weeks ago to see if it would be possible for Netanyahu to meet Obama, as he has on every other visit to the U.S.

The response was that the president’s schedule wouldn’t permit a meeting, the official said today in a telephone interview. Obama is in the middle of campaigning for a second term in the Nov. 6 election.

Obama will be at the UN on Sept. 24-25 and Netanyahu won’t arrive until later in the week, Vietor said. While the president’s UN schedule “is not finalized yet,” Obama has no planned bilateral meetings with leaders of other nations, he said.

While Netanyahu will be in the U.S. for a short time, the Israeli official said that could have included a trip to Washington to accommodate an Obama meeting.

Vietor said in a subsequent e-mailed statement that “contrary to previous press reports, there was never any request for a meeting” between Netanyahu and Obama.

The newspaper Haaretz was among the media outlets in Israel that reported earlier that the White House rejected a request by Netanyahu for a meeting.

Iran Concerns

Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have indicated that, as Iran proceeds with its nuclear work and negotiations stall, Israel is considering a strike against the country’s atomic facilities. While Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, Israel and the U.S. say the Islamic Republic is trying to build an atomic weapon. Iran’s leaders have rejected Israel’s right to exist.

“The world tells Israel, wait, there’s still time, and I say, ‘Wait for what, wait until when?’” Netanyahu told reporters in Jerusalem today. “Those in the international community who refuse to put a red line before Iran don’t have the moral right to place a red light before Israel.”

Netanyahu spoke two days after Clinton said in an interview with Bloomberg Radio that the U.S. is “not setting deadlines” on negotiations with Iran. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said yesterday that it’s “not useful” to set deadlines or “red lines.”

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