But hours after the meeting, Netanyahu renewed his warning that time for diplomacy was running out. In a fiery speech to a Jewish American advocacy group, he said recent economic sanctions had not slowed Iran’s march to nuclear-weapons capability.
“None of us can afford to wait much longer,” Netanyahu told a cheering audience at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference in Washington. “As prime minister of Israel, I will never allow my people to live in the shadow of annihilation.”
At the White House meeting, Obama made clear to Netanyahu that his policy is not to contain an Iranian nuclear arsenal but to prevent Iran’s leaders from developing one, administration officials said. In making his case for diplomacy over a military strike, Obama also assured Netanyahu that Israel has the right to act in its own national security interests.
“Our assessment is that they have not made a decision,” said a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private meeting. “While I can’t say for sure that we bought time, I think they certainly feel more assured about our intentions. They can say and feel that the ball had moved forward in that respect.”
In public and private statements in recent days, Obama urged Israel to refrain from a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, a move that many in the administration feared would set off a regional war in the volatile Middle East. Such a conflict in the oil-rich region would send gasoline prices even higher, exacerbating an election-year threat to Obama.
A few months would allow for the full array of economic sanctions against Iran to take effect this summer, including an embargo on its lifeblood oil industry and banking sector. That time would also help preserve the international coalition that is aligned against Iran’s nuclear program — a fragile diplomatic front that administration officials say would shatter if Israel struck prematurely.
“We do believe that there is a window that allows for a diplomatic resolution to this issue, but ultimately the Iranians’ regime has to make a decision to move in that direction, a decision they have not made thus far,” Obama said, with Netanyahu sitting at his side. “I reserve all options, and my policy here is not going to be one of containment. My policy is prevention of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons.”