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Transition 2012

A guide to foreign policy and the 2012 U.S. presidential transition.

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Tracking the Issues: Netanyahu and Obama to Talk Iran Threat

by Newsteam Staff
March 2, 2012

President Barack Obama and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the United Nations September 21, 2011. President Barack Obama and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu September 21, 2011. (Kevin Lamarque/Courtesy Reuters)


President Obama will seek to persuade Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to postpone any plans he may have to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities in his upcoming visit to the White House Monday. “I think that the Israeli government recognizes that, as president of the United States, I don’t bluff,” Obama told The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg in an interview this week. “I also don’t, as a matter of sound policy, go around advertising exactly what our intentions are.”

Obama said that “all options are on the table” for preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and that the final option would have  a “military component.” However, he also noted that economic sanctions have hurt the country, and cautioned that a premature strike might inadvertently help Iran: “At a time when there is not a lot of sympathy for Iran and its only real ally, [Syria,] is on the ropes, do we want a distraction in which suddenly Iran can portray itself as a victim?”

The publicly aired differences in the assessment of Iran’s nuclear program, as well as proposals for how to deal with it, have become source of friction (TIME) between Obama and Netanyahu. Last week’s Views from Abroad looked at articles in Haaretz and the Economist, which say the 2012 election could prove to be a useful bargaining chip for Netanyahu in encouraging U.S. military action.

The issues of what to do about Iran and the Israel relationship have continued to resonate on the campaign trail. GOP presidential candidates New Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and Rick Santorum have repeatedly sought to demonstrate their strong support of Israel and tough stance against Iran. At a February 22 presidential debate, the three candidates agreed that Iran poses a serious nuclear threat. Romney said it was important to communicate to Iran that the United States is considering military options, while Gingrich said that he would support the Netanyahu in dealing with the threat of a nuclear Iran.

Obama is set to speak to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Sunday, with Netanyahu speaking to them Monday. GOP candidates will address AIPAC (JTA)  by satellite on the morning of March 6, Super Tuesday.

For more information on the candidates’ stands, check out CFR’s Issue Trackers on U.S.-Iran policy, nuclear proliferation, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Suggested Other Reading:

In this CFR interview, Iran expert Farideh Farhi says the March 2 parliamentary elections will shed light on the power struggle among Iran’s conservative forces, and that the political environment in Tehran and Washington makes nuclear negotiations unlikely.

In this New York Times Magazine article, Ronen Bergman writes that Israel will attack Iran in 2012. Foreign Policy‘s Stephen M. Walt writes a rebuttal to Bergman’s piece and says that until Iran expels the inspectors or Israel warns them that it is time to leave, there isn’t going to be a war.

–Liriel Higa, Contributing Editor

1 Comment

  • Posted by Dr. Hergen Heinemann

    There are worries in the US that Israel might unilaterally attack Iran, Iran mining the straits of Hormus and the US having no choice than to clear up the mess and finish off the Iranian military.
    If I were Iran I would announce, that if Israel attacks in a moderate way of course it will be punished, but as long as the US does not intervene, the strait of Hormus will not be mined, only a few Saudi and Kuwaiti installations will be attacked so as to give as a punishment the oil prices a good hike.
    If Iran would announce something like this, as the US I would announce, that if Iran mines the strait of Hormus or responds towards Israel upon an Israeli attack in an unduly way, the military power of the US will be felt in the region and the strait will be cleared swiftly.
    For Iran this would have the advantage to save face without transgressing the red line of mining the Hormus strait and for the US it would have the advantage of discouraging Israel from unilateral attack, because open and effectife US intervention may not be secured.