President Barack Obama told Israelis Iran is still more than year away from developing a nuclear weapon and sought to reassure them that military force remains a U.S. option if sanctions and diplomacy fail to thwart its nuclear ambitions.
In an interview with Israeli television broadcast on Thursday, just six days before his visit to the country, Obama appeared to send a message to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the need for patience with Washington’s Iran strategy while also showing U.S. resolve to confront Tehran if necessary.
Iran’s nuclear standoff with the West will be high on the agenda during Obama’s first presidential trip to the Jewish state, where he faces a tough challenge trying to narrow his differences on the matter with the right-wing prime minister.
Laying the groundwork for his talks with Netanyahu, Obama took the rare step of offering a U.S. assessment of how long it would take Iran to build a nuclear bomb should it make the final decision to pursue one. Tehran denies that is its aim.
“We think that it would take over a year or so for Iran to actually develop a nuclear weapon, but obviously we don’t want to cut it too close,” Obama said.
Netanyahu, at the United Nations in September, set a “red line” of spring or summer for when Iran would be close to weapons capability, suggesting prospects for an Israeli attack around that time. But Iran’s latest talks with world powers plus adjustments in Tehran’s uranium enrichment processes are widely thought to have pushed back that deadline.
Asked if he would order an attack on Iran should diplomacy fail, Obama said: “When I say that all options are on the table, all options are on the table.”
That’s a classic politician’s response to the attack question, as “all options” could mean only those that have been seriously considered and it still isn’t quite clear if the administration has spent a lot of time doing that when it comes to military action against Iran. Iran seems to have been budging a bit in recent talks but what little progress that seemed to have been made was quickly undone when the unhinged Ayatollah Khamenei immediately dismissed, well, all of it.