Obama pressures Netanyahu as White House pursues outreach to Iran

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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President Barack Obama’s first order of business at his Monday meeting with Israel’s prime minister is to prod him to establish at least one new Arab state alongside his tiny country.

In contrast, Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to plead with Obama to help stop Iran from building a nuclear force that would threaten his country’s existence and likely spark a nuclear arms race throughout the Middle East.

“The President will hold a bilateral meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu…[and] looks forward to discussing with Prime Minister Netanyahu the progress on final status negotiations with the Palestinians, as well as developments in Iran, Syria, and elsewhere in the region,” said a Sept. 29 statement from the White House.

The “final status negotiations” are intended to create a new state for Arabs living in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Egypt, and in the West Bank area, around Israel’s capital of Jerusalem.

Obama is also pushing for a deal even though there’s still no sign of any Arab leader announcing an intention, or showing an ability, to defeat expected Arab opposition to any deal that recognizes’ Israel’s right to exist.

The White House’s pressure for Israeli concessions will be underlined by an afternoon speech from Vice President Joe Biden.

He’s expected to give a 2.45 p.m. speech at the annual conference of J Street, a progressive lobbying group that advocates for the creation of a new Arab state alongside Israel. “Support for a Palestinian state is a pro-Israel position, making the group both pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian,” says the group’s website.

The Obama-Netanyahu meeting comes as threats multiply around Israel.

In neighboring Syria, fundamentalist jihadi rebels have sidelined so-called ”moderate” rebels.

Syria’s dictatorial regime remains unrepentant and unpunished for its use of chemical weapons, despite threats in early September from Obama. Diplomats for the U.S. and Russia have signed a deal to eliminate Syria’s chemical weaponry, but the deal contains no enforcement mechanism to make the Syrian government give up its chemical weapons during a war.

Iran’s government, which has repeatedly denounced Israel’s existence, continues to create fuel for its first nuclear weapon.

Obama’s meeting with Netanyahu comes three days after Obama sought a 15-minute phone call with Hassan Rouhani, the newly appointed president of Iran. Rouhani took office in August after he was nominated for the post by Iran’s top theocratic leadership.

Prior to the presidency, Rouhani headed Iran’s diplomatic team that was charged with minimizing foreign pressure on its nuclear program.

On Friday, Obama touted the diplomatic outreach.

“I do believe that there is a basis for a resolution [because] Iran’s Supreme Leader has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons [and] President Rouhani has indicated that Iran will never develop nuclear weapons,” Obama claimed.

For several years, Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders have urged prompt action to stop Iran’s secretive nuke program, which has been underway for at least 10 years.

Numerous media reports say Israel’s government has considered direct attacks against Iran’s nuclear facilities, but has held back at the request of U.S. and European leaders.

However, Obama has set no deadline on the new nuke talks.

“We don’t want to set a hard a timeline, frankly, on these negotiations given that they’re very difficult issues,” said a “senior administration official” who spoke to reporters Friday.

“We have significant differences in our negotiating positions, and that’s normal. …I think the clear direction from President Obama and President Rouhani will be to our respective teams in the P5-plus-1 to work aggressively in pursuit of a deal,” he added.

“I believe we’ve got a responsibility to pursue diplomacy, and that we have a unique opportunity to make progress with the new leadership in Tehran,” Obama said Friday. “I also communicated to President Rouhani my deep respect for the Iranian people,” Obama added.

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