Obama: Iran 'year or so' away from nuclear bomb
US president says has a "terrific, business-like relationship" with PM; says no plans for releasing Pollard immediately.
Herb Keinon - The Jerusalem Post - March 14, 2013The US believes that right now it would take Iran "over a year or so" to develop a nuclear bomb if it decided to do so, US President Barack Obama said in an interview aired Thursday, six days before his much-anticipated trip to Israel.
In the White House interview with Channel 2's Yonit Levy - Obama's first shot at talking directly to the Israeli public, something widely acknowledged as one of the main purposes of his visit - the president said the US did not want to go down to the deadline with the Iranians. Related:
"Obviously we don't want to cut it too close," he said.
Obama deflected the notion that part of his message to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will be to try and rein in any possible Israeli military action, saying "my message will be the same as before: If we can resolve this diplomatically, that is a more lasting solution; and if not, I continue to keep all options on the table."
"When I say all options are on the table, all options are on the table, and the US obviously has significant capabilities," he said.
"Our goal is that Iran does not possess a nuclear weapon that could threaten Israel or trigger an arms race in the region that would be extremely dangerous."
Regarding the diplomatic process with the Palestinians, Obama said nothing of coming to the region with any concrete plans on how to move the process forward, but rather that his goal was to listen to both sides and hear their strategies and visions.
Obama said the only path forward was for the Israelis and Palestinians to get back into negotiations, and that during his visit he would explore "whether that can happen soon or whether there needs to be further work on the ground."
Obama said he would tell Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that running around Israel to the UN will not be successful, and that he would tell Netanyahu that he should have an interest in strengthening the moderate leadership in the PA and "make sure issues like settlements are viewed through the lens of 'is this making it easier or harder for Palestinian moderates to sit down at the table?'" While recognizing Israel was legitimately concerned about the chaos in the region, Obama said the country "can't count on just a few autocrats holding things together in the neighborhood," and that it was in Israel's interest to be able to talk to the Arab street.
Regarding Jonathan Pollard, Obama quashed hope that he would free him during his visit. "I have no plans for releasing Jonathan Pollard immediately, but what I am going to be doing is make sure that he - like every other American who has been sentenced - is accorded the same kinds of review and same examination of the equities that any other individual would be provided." With that, Obama articulated more sympathy on the matter than any other US president. "I recognize the emotions involved in this," he said. "One of the strengths of the Israeli people is you think about your people wherever they are. I recognize that and am sympathetic."
On the other hand, he said, people needed to understand that his first obligation as president was to uphold the country's laws and make sure they are "applied consistently. There are a lot of individuals in prison in the United States who have committed crimes who would love to be released early as well, and I have to make sure that every individual is treated fairly and equally."
Obama, who was criticized sharply for not mentioning the Jewish people's historical tie to Israel in his Cairo speech in 2009, made reference to that connection in the interview, saying he has always admired the Jewish people's "connection to the land." He also addressed his relationship with Netanyahu, calling what has widely been perceived as a strained relationship a "terrific, business- like relationship."
"I've met with Bibi more than any other world leader one-on-one," he said. "He is very blunt with me about his views on issues, and I am very blunt with him about my views on issues. And we get stuff done. We could not coordinate militarily or on the intelligence side had it not been for our capacity to work together."
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