Obama, Netanyahu Differ On How To Deal With Iran President Obama said he prefers diplomacy and pressure to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. The Israeli leader made clear his country reserves the right for a pre-emptive attack, saying Israel must remain master of its fate.

Obama, Netanyahu Differ On How To Deal With Iran

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

We still do not know if or when Israel might launch a military strike on Iran. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was at the White House yesterday. His government has been debating a strike against Iran's nuclear facilities to prevent it from developing a nuclear weapon. President Obama says he prefers diplomacy and pressure, at least for now.

NPR's Michele Kelemen reports on two leaders who seem to have different red lines, the term for an act that would trigger a war.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: President Obama tried to do a couple of things in his meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu. One was to reassure Israel that the U.S. is determined to keep nuclear weapons out of Iranian hands. The other was to persuade Israel to give diplomacy and sanctions some time and not rush to military action.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: When I say all options are at the table, I mean it. Having said that, I know that both the prime minister and I prefer to resolve this diplomatically. We understand the costs of any military action.

KELEMEN: And President Obama says there is a window that allows for a diplomatic resolution. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wasn't sounding very patient last night when he addressed the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC. He says he's been warning the world about the threat of a nuclear armed Iran for the past 15 years.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: My friends, Israel has waited, patiently waited, for the international community to resolve this issue. We've waited for diplomacy to work. We've waited for sanctions to work. None of us can afford to wait much longer.


NETANYAHU: As prime minister of Israel, I will never let my people live in the shadow of annihilation.


KELEMEN: The Israeli prime minister dismissed those who worry about the costs of striking Iran. He says it's time to talk about the costs of not stopping it from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability.

NETANYAHU: I want you to think about what it would mean to have nuclear weapons in the hands of those - these radicals who lead millions of people in chants of death to American and death to Israel.

KELEMEN: Netanyahu won loud cheers at AIPAC, as did Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who called for overwhelming force against Iran, if it begins to enrich uranium to weapons grade levels.

President Obamas told that same audience Sunday that it would be wise for the U.S. to speak softly and carry a big stick. The loose talk of war, he warned, is only benefiting Iran by driving up oil prices.

Daniel Levy, of the New America Foundation thinks President Obama played it well, reassuring Israelis that the U.S. has Israel's back while not giving into his Republican critics or Netanyahu's calls for clear red lines.

DANIEL LEVY: President Obama domestically has come out of this very well. I think vis-a-vis the Israeli mainstream he has scored a lot of points. He may have boxed himself in a little more on Iran, but I don't think to a degree that doesn't allow still significant wiggle room down the line.

KELEMEN: Levy says Netanyahu will likely play up the commitments he got on Iran and the fact that another key issue - stalled peace talks with the Palestinians - was hardly mentioned.

LEVY: The president inserted it into his talking points, but Benjamin Netanyahu was able to largely ignore the issue. And he will turn to his right wing coalition and say, look what I've achieved; I've made sure that Iran is the only issue on the agenda. The Palestinian issue has been absolutely de-prioritized. And he'll certainly get a lot of credit for that with his home base.

KELEMEN: A brief White House statement lists Middle East peace as one of a range of regional issues the two men discussed during several hours of talks. The statement says they spoke at length about the threat from Iran.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

MONTAGNE: And this morning there's some movement on diplomatic efforts with Iran. The U.S. and other world powers have accepted Iran's offer to resume talks on its nuclear program, that according to the European Union's foreign policy chief. The U.S., China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany are demanding that Iran freeze all uranium enrichment. The time and place of the talks has not been decided.

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