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Panetta asks Israel for patience on Iran
Question of the Day
JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, standing next to the U.S. defense chief, said Wednesday without qualification that international economic sanctions have had no effect on Iran’s nuclear program and suggested Israeli patience was wearing thin, a statement that amounted to an indictment of President Barack Obama’s policy toward the Islamic republic.
Netanyahu dismissed U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s assurances that the United States shared its goal of a non-nuclear Iran, saying the central features of Washington’s strategy for stopping the Islamic republic’s nuclear ambitions — sanctions and diplomacy — were perilously close to failure.
Netanyahu did not explicitly threaten to attack Iran, but that was the unspoken implication of his assertion that all non-military measures have proven ineffective in persuading Iran to change its course.
“Right now the Iranian regime believes that the international community does not have the will to stop its nuclear program,” Netanyahu said. “This must change, and it must change quickly because time to resolve this issue peacefully is running out.”
“I want to reassert again the position of the United States that with regards to Iran, we will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. Period,” the Pentagon chief said. “We will not allow them to develop a nuclear weapon. And we will exert all options in the effort to ensure that that does not happen.”
Panetta argued that all non-military means of pressuring Iran must first be exhausted before military action is called for. He said repeatedly that Washington still considers military action an option for the future.
But Netanyahu was unyielding in his view that more must be done now. He said sanctions have hurt Iran’s economy but not achieved their ultimate purpose, which is to change the calculus of Iran’s rulers.
“Neither sanctions nor diplomacy has yet had any impact on Iran’s nuclear weapons program,” the Israeli leader said.
“America and Israel have also made clear that all options are on the table. You yourself said a few months ago that when all else fails, America will act,” he said, referring to statements by Panetta. “But these declarations have also not yet convinced the Iranians to stop their program.”
Iran asserts that its nuclear program is meant to produce civilian energy, not to make weapons. And it insists that it has a right under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to enrich the uranium that can be used either to power civilian nuclear reactors or to build bombs.
Panetta’s visit came on the heels of a stop here by Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, who has accused the Obama administration of doing too little to help Israel and too little to stop Iran.
In his joint appearance with Panetta at an air defense site in southern Israel, Defense Minister Ehud Barak sought to emphasize solidarity with the Obama administration, crediting Panetta and Obama for the “extraordinary” strength of the U.S.-Israeli defense relationship.
But he, like Netanyahu, parted ways with Washington by expressing doubts about the viability of the sanctions strategy.
Standing beside Panetta and flanked by American and Israeli flags, Barak said he sees an “extremely low” probability that international economic sanctions will cause the Iranian leaders to give up their nuclear ambitions.
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