“Think how they’ll behave tomorrow with nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu told AIPAC. “Iran will be even more reckless and a lot more dangerous.”
While acknowledging that a military strike would be costly, he said: “I think we ought to start talking about the cost of not stopping Iran.”
Israel, which has its own undeclared arsenal of nuclear weapons, has concluded that Iran’s leadership has decided to pursue one as well. International inspectors have uncovered evidence to suggest a military intent for a program that Iran says is meant only for civilian power purposes.
Those concerns were underscored Monday at a meeting of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog in the Austrian capital. Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said the U.N. group has “serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear program.”
He voiced concern about Iran’s recent tripling of its production of a more-purified form of enriched uranium.
But the Obama administration is not convinced that Iran’s leaders have decided to develop a nuclear weapon, although U.S. diplomats have worked with European allies to implement oil and banking sanctions against Iran until it gives up its uranium-enrichment program.
Points of convergence
Before the Oval Office meeting, Netanyahu said: “Americans know that Israel and the United States share common values, that we defend common interests, that we face common enemies. Iran’s leaders know that, too. For them, you’re the Great Satan, we’re the Little Satan. For them, we are you, and you’re us.”
Obama and Netanyahu have been at odds in the past, particularly over how to revive the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
But the leaders share many of the same security goals. As Obama noted in his address Sunday to AIPAC, U.S. military aid to Israel has increased during each year of his administration.
Obama also has thrown the weight of U.S. diplomacy behind Israel. Last fall, he opposed the Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations. With the Palestinian peace negotiations a secondary issue, Obama and Netanyahu appeared more at ease than they did a year ago.
Israeli officials described the talks, which included a half-hour session just between the two leaders, as cordial. Obama and Netanyahu expressed resolve about preventing the emergence of a nuclear-armed Iran and promised an “open channel” going forward, a senior Israeli diplomat said.
Obama also publicly assured Netanyahu that the United States “will always have Israel’s back” when it comes to security, and the Israeli leader thanked him for his strong speech before AIPAC the previous day.
In those remarks, Obama declared that “all elements of American power” were still available to stop Iran’s enrichment program.
Heading into the meeting, Netanyahu and his national security advisers hoped to hear more explicitly from Obama about how he viewed the goal of the Iranian nuclear program and his timeline for moving against it.
The senior administration official said, “Our red line is a nuclear weapon, and we didn’t change our policy.”
“They didn’t press on the red line, but one thing they did press on was intent,” the official said. “They don’t trust this [Iranian] regime at all, and we don’t either. But we believe the pressure is mounting and that Iran may take some steps to relieve it.”
Staff writer David Nakamura contributed to this report.