US President Barack Obama
rejected an appeal by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
to define a specific “red line” that Iran
could not cross in its nuclear program, The New York Times reported Friday, citing an unnamed senior administration official.
According to the report, in an hour-long conversation on Tuesday Obama deflected Netanyahu’s proposal to make the size of Iran’s stockpile of close-to-bomb-grade uranium the threshold, that, if passed, would trigger a US military strike on the Islamic Republic's nuclear facilities.
While Obama reiterated the assurance that the US won't allow Iran to manufacture a atomic bomb, he was unwilling to agree on any specific action by the Islamic Republic – like reaching a defined threshold on nuclear material, or failing to adhere to a deadline on negotiations – that would lead to military action by the US.
“We need some ability for the president to have decision-making room,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “We have a red line, which is a nuclear weapon. We’re committed to that red line.”
Israeli officials have asserted that this guarantee may not be enough for the Jewish state, which Iranian leaders have repeatedly threatened with annihilation. The Israelis say that neither the diplomatic talks nor the economic sanctions have slowed down Iran’s nuclear development.
A day before the conversation, the prime minister told reporters that the Obama administration had no “moral right”
to restrain Israel from taking military action on its own if it refused to put limits on Iran. The remarks were followed by reports claiming that Obama snubbed Netanyahu's
request to meet during the United Nations General Assembly session in New York this month. The White House denied those reports, citing mundane scheduling problems as the reason the two can't convene.
The wrangling stems from Israel's belief that Iran, having continued to stockpile uranium enriched to 20%, is nearing the point at which Israel will no longer be able to prevent it from making a bomb.
American officials maintain that the US will still be able to detect, and prevent, Iran from passing that point. For now the administration has no evidence that Tehran has made a decision to build a bomb.
Some analysts argue that Netanyahu is trying to use political leverage on Obama in order to pressure him to toughen his stance on Iran ahead of the US presidential elections.
Israeli officials flatly deny that Netanyahu is playing election-year politics.