U.S., Israel Divided Over 'Red Line' For Iran Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is stepping up pressure on the Obama administration to draw clear red lines when it comes to Iran's nuclear program. But Israeli and U.S. observers say the issue has become too public.
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U.S., Israel Divided Over 'Red Line' For Iran

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U.S., Israel Divided Over 'Red Line' For Iran

U.S., Israel Divided Over 'Red Line' For Iran

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This is WEEKEND EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. The Obama administration often talks about its tight bonds with Israel. But relations between the leaders of the U.S. and Israel don't look all so strong, at the moment. This week, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Obama administration openly disagreed over how to handle Iran. And the White House announced that President Obama would not have time to meet Mr. Netanyahu when the Israeli prime minister gets to the United States later this month.

The two men did have a lengthy phone conversation, but some say they could really use a marriage counselor. NPR's Michele Kelemen has this report.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: As a former State Department official, Aaron David Miller was up close to many U.S. presidents in their dealings with Israeli leaders.

AARON DAVID MILLER: Look, I've watched this relationship between Israeli prime ministers and American presidents for a long time - since Begin and Carter. I have to say, this is probably the most dysfunctional pair that I've seen.

KELEMEN: Now at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Miller says the issue of Iran and its suspect nuclear program, should bring these two men together. Iran needs to see a united front. But Miller says these two leaders just can't help themselves.

MILLER: The last thing you want to do is to be having this discussion among two close allies - and they are close allies - publicly now.

KELEMEN: The latest dispute started when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a Bloomberg reporter that the U.S. isn't setting deadlines with Iran. Netanyahu quickly fired back.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran, don't have a moral right to place a red light before Israel. I think Iran must understand that there's a red line so they stop advancing on their program to produce atomic bombs.

KELEMEN: White House spokesman Jay Carney is now trying to put this public dispute back in a box.

JAY CARNEY: The president's red line has been clear - the president has made clear that he is committed to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. We are completely in sync with Israel, on that matter. There is no daylight between the United States and Israel, when it comes to the absolute commitment to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

KELEMEN: American lawmakers on both side of the aisle, were uncomfortable with the public spat. Republican Sen. Bob Corker issued a statement complaining about President Obama's lack of clarity. Democrat Barbara Boxer wrote to Prime Minister Netanyahu, saying she was stunned by his remarks - adding, it appears he has injected politics into a profound security challenge.

Miller, of the Wilson Center, says if that's the case, Netanyahu isn't doing himself any favors.

MILLER: Because the last thing he needs, or wants, may be a re-elected Barack Obama. But he certainly doesn't want an angry, re-elected Barack Obama.

KELEMEN: Netanyahu told an Israeli newspaper that he's not guided by the U.S. election, but by the centrifuges in Iran. But his talk about red lines has some Israelis nervous, too - including a former Israeli defense force chief who likes to quote Clint Eastwood.

DAN HALUTZ: When you have to shoot, shoot. Don't talk.

KELEMEN: Gen. Dan Halutz told the Brookings Institution that the U.S. and Israel should be able to coordinate their positions privately. And he's frustrated by all this talk about red lines, which he says hasn't worked for Israel, in the past.

HALUTZ: Red lines are red at the moment that you are drawing them. But when you take the decision according to the red lines, you may find, now, that the color is not red anymore because situation is changing. We are living in a very dynamic world, very dynamic.

KELEMEN: And he laments the fact that the discussion over Iran has become so political.

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