Israel concerns about Iran 'red line' is 'noise' Obama says

I'm sure this makes the Israelis feel a whole lot better.


President Barack Obama likened Israeli pressure on him to draw a line in the sand over Iran's nuclear ambitions as noise he tries to ignore, according to remarks aired Sunday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently urged the United States to establish what he called a "red line" regarding Tehran's nuclear program beyond which the United States would be compelled to act.

Iran insists its uranium-enrichment activities are for civilian energy-producing purposes, but the West fears it is for building nuclear weapons.

Israel is seen as pushing a much more hardline approach that would include military action, while Washington instead prefers to let diplomacy and sanctions dissuade Iran from building the bomb.

Obama, interviewed for Sunday's edition of "60 Minutes" on broadcaster CBS, said he understands and agrees with Netanyahu's insistence that Iran not be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons as this would threaten both countries, the world in general, and kick off an arms race.

But Obama added: "When it comes to our national security decisions -- any pressure that I feel is simply to do what's right for the American people. And I am going to block out -- any noise that's out there."

Tensions have been running high between the United States and Israeli leader, and they will not hold a face-to-face meeting this week at the UN General Assembly in New York. The White House has cited scheduling problems.

Is the president taking the Israeli concerns about Iran seriously? The "red line" that Prime Minister Netanyahu wants from Washington is vital for Israel's strategic planning. Can they, or can they not, count on Washington to back their play if they decide they must go to war? 

It doesn't get any more fundamental than that when it comes to an alliance. And Obama's hedging on a red line serves the dual purpose of restraining Israel and giving him political leeway during an election campaign. He can say, as he said in the "60 Minutes" interview that he supports Israel, while raising doubts in the Israeli government about where he stands.

Not meeting Netanyahu this week while laying out the red carpet for the Muslim Brotherhood's President Morsi of Egypt should not be very reassuring to Israel either. Keeping the prime minister guessing would appear to be the president's strategy until after the election.

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