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Obama Says Israel Has Right to Guard Against Iran Threat

US President Barack Obama & Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu
U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu embrace at a joint press conference following a bilateral meeting at the Prime Minister's residence in Jerusalem. Photographer: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

March 20 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama said the U.S. will do whatever is necessary to keep Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon and echoed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s declaration that Israel has the right to “defend itself, by itself.”

Iran’s nuclear program and the turmoil in Syria were two main topics for Obama and Netanyahu as they met today in Jerusalem. Obama said the U.S. was investigating claims that a chemical weapon was used in Syria and that such a development would be a “game-changer” if it was verified.

Netanyahu, speaking at a news conference with Obama, thanked the U.S. leader for mobilizing international support for diplomatic and economic pressure on Iran, adding that those measures must be backed up by a credible threat of military force. Iran presents an existential threat, he said, and “Israel can never cede the right to defend ourselves.”

Obama said there “is not a lot of daylight” between the U.S. and Israel on Iran. He said he understood that Israel has unique security considerations.

The U.S. prefers to resolve the dispute with Iran through diplomatic channels, “and there is still time to do so,” Obama said. “The question is will Iranian leadership seize that opportunity.”

On Syria, Obama said he is “deeply skeptical” of claims by Bashar al-Assad’s regime that opposition forces used a chemical weapon in the conflict. The U.S. intends to “investigate thoroughly” what happened.

Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Jaafari, accused “terrorist groups” of firing a rocket laden with chemicals, whose “thick smoke” killed 25 people and injured 110 in the Khan al-Assal area in Aleppo province.

“We know the Syrian government has the capacity to carry out chemical weapons attacks,” Obama said. “Once we establish the facts, I have made clear that the use of chemical weapons is a game-changer.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Margaret Talev in Jerusalem at mtalev@bloomberg.net; Julianna Goldman in Jerusalem at jgoldman6@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Komarow at skomarow1@bloomberg.net

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