Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived at the White House Monday for a meeting and working lunch with President Obama and Vice President Biden, amid intensifying US-Iran diplomacy to resolve the nuclear dispute.
“We have to test diplomacy” with Iran, Obama said in remarks with Netanyahu at the White House Monday. “We, in good faith, will approach that. They will not be easy.”
“The Prime Minister and I agree that it is imperative that Iran not possess a nuclear weapon,” Obama said.
Netanyahu said he appreciated President Obama’s assurance that Iran’s words “have to be matched by real actions,” and urged that sanctions pressure not be relieved until there would be verifiable progress toward dismantling Iran’s nuclear program.
Netanyahu’s White House meetings come ahead of his speech to the United Nations Tuesday, in which he vowed to deliver “facts” and straight talk to counter what he called Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s “smile campaign” in New York last week.
The Israeli leader’s first visit to Washington in 17 months comes as a new CNN/ORS poll shows that an overwhelming number of Americans–76% –back direct US-Iran negotiations to see if a diplomatic resolution can be found to address concerns over Iran’s nuclear program. The poll, conducted September 27-29, 2013, showed that large majorities of both parties–87% of Democrats and 68% of Republicans—favor the diplomatic outreach, while only one in five–21%–oppose it.
It also comes as former Israeli Defense Force (IDF) intelligence chief Amos Yadlin urged Netanyahu to face facts of his own, and recognize that even an imperfect Iran nuclear agreement is better than the status quo.
“Iran may well reject the Prime Minister’s demands (zero enrichment, removal of all the enriched material from Iran, the suspension of activity at the underground facility in Fordow and the reactor at Arak),” Yadlin wrote in a memo published Sunday (Sept. 29) by the Israeli think tank he now heads, the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) . “Nonetheless it is important to define an agreement that even if containing a certain risk that Iran could break out to military nuclear capability either under or in violation of the deal, still represents a significantly smaller threat than the dangers inherent in the status quo, which is likely leading to an Iranian bomb or to a military move to forestall it.”
Yadlin also suggested that there were signs in the statements made by American and Iranian leaders last week–including in Obama himself announcing his phone call with Iran’s Rouhani from the White House Friday–that there had been coordination on the the broad terms for a potential deal worked out in advance.
“Anyone examining the statements made by the US and Iranian Presidents could justifiably assume that there was prior coordination in the terms used about the principles of an expected agreement,” Yadlin wrote. “On the one hand, Iran’s right to develop sources of nuclear energy, and on the other hand, transparency and verification as well as ‘significant steps’ that have not been specified by either side.”
Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking to CBS’s 60 Minutes Sunday, said he thought an Iran nuclear deal could be reached quickly, even in less than three to six months, if Iran is seriously prepared to make a reasonable deal.
“If it is a peaceful program, and we can all see that – the whole world sees that – the relationship with Iran can change dramatically for the better and it can change fast,” Kerry said.
“If the United States is ready to recognize Iran’s rights, to respect Iran’s rights and move from that perspective, then we have a real chance,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos Sunday.
Zarif is due to meet negotiators from the P5+1–the US, UK, France, Germany, China and Russia–in Geneva October 15-16 to lay out a more detailed proposal for resolving the nuclear issue within a year, beginning with a first step confidence building proposal.
(Top photo: Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama meet with their advisors at the White House Monday, by the Israeli embassy. Second photo: Netanyahu shakes hands with President Obama at the White House Monday, by the Associated Press. Cartoon of Netanyahu arriving at the UN amid signs of a party by Haaretz.)