President Barack Obama will host a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu in Washington on March 5, the White House said today, a session that will likely center on the West’s efforts to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
A White House statement rounding up the recent Israel visit by Obama’s National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, which announced the date for the upcoming meeting, indicated that the top advisor discussed the “full range of security issues of mutual concern” during his meetings with Israeli leadership.
“The visit is part of the continuous and intensive dialogue between the United States and Israel and reflects our unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security,” the statement added.
Donilon’s visit, as well as the planned Netanyahu-Obama meeting, came at a time of intense speculation concerning the possibility that Israel may initiate a strike against Iran’s nuclear weapons over its fears the Islamic Republic is progressing toward nuclear weapons capability.
On Sunday, U.S. joint chiefs of staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey and British Foreign Minister William Hague warned against an Israeli attack on Iran, citing the grave consequences for the entire region.
In an interview broadcast on CNN, Dempsey said Israel has the capability to strike Iran and delay the Iranians “probably for a couple of years. But some of the targets are probably beyond their reach.”
He expressed concern that an Israeli attack could spark reprisals against U.S. targets in the Gulf or Afghanistan, where American forces are based.
“That’s the question with which we all wrestle. And the reason that we think that it’s not prudent at this point to decide to attack Iran,” Dempsey said.
Describing Iran as a “rational actor,” Dempsey said he believed that the international sanctions on Iran are beginning to have an effect. “For that reason, I think, that we think the current path we’re on is the most prudent path at this point.”
“I believe it is unclear (that Iran would assemble a bomb) and on that basis, I think it would be premature to exclusively decide that the time for a military option was upon us,” Dempsey said.
Hague delivered a similar message in Britain. Speaking to the BBC, he said Britain was focused on pressuring Iran through diplomatic means.
“I don’t think a wise thing at this moment is for Israel to launch a military attack on Iran,” he said. “I think Israel like everyone else in the world should be giving a real chance to the approach we have adopted on very serious economic sanctions and economic pressure and the readiness to negotiate with Iran.”
In a sign that the diplomatic pressure might be working, Iran’s foreign minister said Sunday that a new round of talks with six world powers on the nuclear program will be held in Istanbul, Turkey. Ali Akbar Salehi didn’t give any timing for the talks.
The last round of talks between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany were held in Istanbul in January 2011 but ended in failure.
Last week, The Daily Beast reported that a secret Washington visit by Mossad chief Tamir Pardo earlier this month was meant to gauge how the Obama administration of would react to an Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear program.
Pardo’s visit was exposed last month by Haaretz after top U.S. officials mentioned his participation in a series of meetings in Washington at a public hearing in the Senate.
The report, citing U.S. officials, shed some light on the visit, saying the Mossad chief had visited the U.S. in order to determine how the U.S. would react if Israel attacked Iran’s nuclear program despite U.S. objections.
According to U.S. officials cited in the report, Pardo asked top American officials questions such as: “What is our posture on Iran? Are we ready to bomb? Would we [do so later]? What does it mean if [Israel] does it anyway?”
The report added that Israel has ceased sharing a “significant” amount of intelligence concerning its military preparations with the U.S.