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Obama offers Netanyahu assurances over Iran

by Jeffrey Heller and Matt Spetalnick, Reuters

March 5, 2012 | 10:30 am

U.S. President Barack Obama welcomes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on March 5. Photo by REUTERS/Jason Reed

U.S. President Barack Obama welcomes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on March 5. Photo by REUTERS/Jason Reed

President Barack Obama, aiming to head off any premature Israeli strike on Iran, sought to assure Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday that the United States would always “have Israel’s back” but said there was still time for diplomacy.

Netanyahu, in a show of unity with an American leader with whom he has had a rocky relationship, said at the White House that both Israel and the United States stood together on the need to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

“The bond between our two countries is unbreakable,” Obama said. “The United States will always have Israel’s back when it comes to Israel’s security.”

The two men, sitting side by side and smiling at each other in the Oval Office, sought to present a united front in the Iranian nuclear standoff after weeks of mounting concern that Israel would preemptively strike Iran on its own.

In one of the most consequential meetings of U.S. and Israeli leaders in years, they made no mention of any differences they may have over red lines that could trigger military action to curb an Iranian nuclear program that Israel sees as a threat to its existence.

“We believe there is still a window that allows for a diplomatic resolution,” Obama said.

Netanyahu made clear that Israel would be the “master of its fate” in deciding how to deal with Iran, which has called for the destruction of the Jewish state.

“It must have the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat,” Netanyahu said, echoing remarks Obama made a day earlier in a speech to the powerful pro-Israel lobby AIPAC.

Obama has been urging Israel to allow sanctions more time to work against Iran’s nuclear ambitions while balancing that with assurances of his resolve to do whatever is necessary to keep the Islamic republic from becoming a nuclear-armed state.

At the White House meeting, Obama told Netanyahu the United States reserved “all options” in dealing with Iran. The president has made clear that would include a possible military component.

“We do not want to see a nuclear arms race in the most volatile region in the world,” Obama said.

Iran denies it is seeking nuclear weapons.

Reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Will Dunham

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