- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Amid reports the White House may soften its stance toward Iran’s nuclear program, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a stern message to President Obama on Wednesday and stressed that the American leader must take a hard line going forward.

The two men met in the Oval Office a day after Mr. Netanyahu addressed the United Nations General Assembly and again painted a nuclear Iran as the grave threat to the Middle East.

Iran seeks a deal that would lift the tough sanctions that you’ve worked so hard to put in place, and leave it as a threshold nuclear power. I fervently hope that under your leadership that would not happen,” Mr. Netanyahu said at the outset of his meeting with Mr. Obama.

With great fanfare last year, the Obama administration announced that the U.S. and its international partners had secured a preliminary agreement for Iran to roll back key parts of its nuclear program in exchange for some relief from economic sanctions.

That deal was scheduled to be finalized over the summer, but the deadline was extended to November.

Now the administration may lessen its demands on Iran, The Associated Press reported last week.

The administration reportedly is considering meeting Iran roughly halfway on the number of centrifuges it can retain; Iran wants to keep 9,400 centrifuges up and running, while the U.S. initially wanted no more than 1,500. Centrifuges are key to developing weapons-grade nuclear material.

Publicly, Mr. Obama said little about his administration’s policy toward Iran on Wednesday, though the White House confirmed it was a central part of the meeting with Mr. Netanyahu.

“We’ll also have an opportunity to discuss the progress that’s being made with respect to dealing with Iran’s nuclear program, which obviously has been a high priority for not only Israel but also the United States and the world community,” the president said just before the meeting began.

Later in the day, White House press secretary Josh Earnest cautioned against making assumptions about what a final deal with Iran will look like.

The U.S. is negotiating the terms of that agreement with its partners in the so-called P5-plus-1 — Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia.

“These talks and conversations are ongoing, and the president has articulated his determination, working closely with our P5-plus-1 partners, to make sure that we have in place a verifiable regime to satisfy the international community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program,” Mr. Earnest said. “We want to be able to have insight into that program and confirm transparently that Iran is not seeking a nuclear weapon.”

Meanwhile, leaders on Capitol Hill are urging the White House not to soften its stance toward Tehran and are cautioning against allowing other international crises — such as the fight against the Islamic State — to divert attention away from Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

“There is no evidence that Iran intends to comply with honest transparency and accountability measures over its nuclear ambitions. At a time when we are asking other governments in the Middle East to help the United States take on and destroy [the Islamic State], we are giving a pass to Iran, which is the number one threat to the entire region,” House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said last week.

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