US officials: It appears Israel yet to decide on Iran attack
During Oval Office meeting, Netanyahu hands Obama copy of Book of Esther in honor of Purim, but leaders mostly discuss nuclear threat. Unclear if PM received clarifications on Washington's 'red lines.' NYT: Mood was 'somber and businesslike'
WASHINGTON – Israel has yet to reach a decision to attack Iran's nuclear facilities – this is the message American officials said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indirectly conveyed to US President Barack Obama during their meeting on Monday.
Netanyahu told reporters after the meeting that "the Israeli position was met with understanding."
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Prior to the meeting, Netanyahu said Israel was a sovereign nation with the right to defend itself, while Obama claimed there was still time to resolve the Iranian nuclear crisis diplomatically.
During the meeting, which lasted close to three hours, Netanyahu presented the US president with a copy of the Book of Esther in honor of the upcoming Purim holiday.
Apart from Iran, the meeting also centered on issues related to Egypt, Syria and the Palestinians. Despite the fact that Netanyahu has stressed in closed meetings that Israel has the option of launching an attack alone, the Americans understood from his comments during the talks with Obama that the Jewish state has yet to decide on striking Iran's nuclear plants.
It remains unclear whether Netanyahu received clarifications regarding the "red lines" Iran would have to cross before the US would become involved militarily.
Officials who attended the meeting said Obama did not demand that Israel refrain from attacking Iran, but the Israeli and American leaders spoke privately as well.
'Not a dramatic meeting.' (Photo: Amos Ben-Gershom, GPO)
During the meeting, Netanyahu expressed his concern that the Iranians were continuing to deceive the international community while advancing toward a nuclear bomb.
The PM said the overwhelming victory of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's camp over President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's camp in the recent Iranian parliamentary elections indicated that the Islamic Republic was becoming even more extreme and would therefore shun any attempt to resolve the nuclear crisis diplomatically.
An American source told Ynet the meeting was "not dramatic or decisive," but just one of a series of meetings aimed at reaching understandings regarding Iran.
Obama told reporters before the meeting, "As I emphasized, even as we will continue on the diplomatic front, we will continue to tighten pressure when it comes to sanctions, I reserve all options, and my policy here is not going to be one of containment. My policy is prevention of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons. And as I indicated yesterday in my speech, 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," the president added.
Netanyahu, on his part, said Israel "must have the ability always to defend itself by itself against any threat; and that when it comes to Israel's security, Israel has the right, the sovereign right to make its own decisions."
The New York Times said the mood in the Oval Office was "somber and businesslike, as it usually is in meetings between Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu — two men who have had a sometimes fractious relationship over Middle East diplomacy."
Israeli officials said that the Americans went out of their way to induce a positive atmosphere. President Obama came into the State Dining Room and walked among the Israeli delegation members, shaking hands and showing interest in each member.
When he reached the prime minister's Military Secretary Brigadier General Locker, Locker told the president that by coming to Washington he was missing his daughter's birthday. Obama complemented Ambassador Michael Oren and thanked Yitzhak Molcho, the special negotiator on the Palestinian issue for his contribution.
On Sunday night, First Lady Michelle Obama sent flowers to the Blair House for Sara Netanyahu, the PM's wife.
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