President Obama told the Israeli prime minister Monday morning he thinks there is “still a window” in which diplomatic pressure will deter the Iranian nuclear program and that he is thinking about the “costs of any military action” as he contemplates that possibility.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked Obama for recently acknowledging that “Israel has the sovereign right to make its own decisions,” but he emphasized that “Israel must be able to defend itself.”
With those brief remarks before television cameras, the two leaders began a closed-door session in the Oval Office in which each will try to persuade the other of a future course of action.
The remarks themselves broke no new ground, but the body language between the two men was carefully watched. Last spring, tensions between the two leaders flared memorably in this same setting. Netanyahu seized the moment before the cameras in the White House to review the history of Jewish suffering, as Obama bristled under the lecture.
This time, by contrast, Obama appeared relaxed as the two shared a handshake in front of the cameras. Netanyahu repeated his well-known position that Israel must be able to “defend itself, by itself” but avoided the appearance of lecturing the president.
Obama wants Netanyahu to hold off on military strikes against the Iranian nuclear facilities, and he said so, looking the Israeli leader directly in the eye as he spoke.
“We do believe there is still a window that allows for a diplomatic resolution,” Obama said. “Ultimately, the Iranian regime has to make a decision to move in that direction, a decision they have not made thus far.”
Netanyahu wants it to be clear the Israelis are considering military action, and wants Iran to know he speaks with the full backing of the U.S. While Obama occasionally turned to address the cameras, Netanyahu spoke directly to the president.
“As Americans look around the Middle East, they see one reliable, stable, faithful ally of the U.S. .... and that’s the democracy of Israel,” Netanyahu said.
“Iran’s leaders know that, too,” he said. “For them, you’re the great Satan. We’re the little Satan. For them, we are you. You are us. At least on this last point, I think they’re right .… We’re together.”
The two leaders were scheduled to meet in the Oval Office and then, over the lunch hour, to convene in an expanded meeting with the full Israeli delegation.