Obama, appearing with Netanyahu, sees ‘difficult months’ ahead in Iran standoff

Olivier Knox
The Ticket

President Barack Obama on Monday warned of "difficult months" ahead in the tense standoff over Iran's nuclear program, but promised visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "rock solid" support from the United States.

"I want to assure both the American people and the Israeli people that we are in constant and close consultation. I think the levels of coordination and consultation between our militaries and our intelligence—not just on this issue, but on a broad range of issues—has been unprecedented. And I intend to make sure that that continues during what will be a series of difficult months, I suspect, in 2012," Obama said during a joint public appearance with his guest in the Oval Office.

The remarks seemed designed to paper over cracks between the United States and its closest ally in the Middle East on the issue of Iran, notably on whether and when any military action would take place to prevent Iran from building the technology to create a nuclear weapon.

"Americans know that Israel and the United States share common values, that we defend common interests, that we face common enemies," Netanyahu told his host.

"Iran's leaders know that too. You know, for them you're the 'Great Satan,' we're the 'Little Satan.' For them, we are you, and you are us. And you know something, Mister President? At least on this last point, I think they're right—we are you, and you are us. We are together," said the prime minister. "Israel and America stand together."

But Netanyahu, as he has in the past, also reiterated that Israel "must reserve the right" to strike Iran—with or without a green light from Washington.

"When it comes to Israel's security, Israel has the right, the sovereign right, to make its own decisions," he said, underlining that "my supreme responsibility as prime minister of Israel is to ensure that Israel remains the master of its fate."

The two leaders made remarks to the press before their talks, when they could safely restate their well-known public positions without risking media reports that they failed to come together.

But in a potentially telling bit of logistics, Netanyahu was to meet at 3:30 p.m. with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who was then to cross the street from the Blair House for visiting dignitaries to see Obama at the White House at 4:45 p.m.

That's sure to revive talk about whether America could give Israel more advanced weaponry better able to reach Iran's hardened nuclear sites.

"Israel must have the ability always to defend itself by itself against any threat," said Netanyahu.

"The bond between our two countries is unbreakable ... our commitment to the security of Israel is rock-solid," Obama said. "The United States will always have Israel's back when it comes to Israel's security."

But the president also stressed that "both the prime minister and I prefer to resolve this diplomatically."

"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 on the table,' I mean it," Obama said.