Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to AIPAC March 5, 2012. (Cliff Owen/AP)
"We have a window through which we can resolve this peacefully," Obama said at his White House news conference Tuesday. "The notion that we have a choice to make in the next week or two weeks or one month or two months is not borne out by the facts."
But how long is that window for diplomacy with Iran?
As world powers formally asked Iran Tuesday to set a date for new nuclear talks, American policymakers were parsing the words of visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for signs of his timeline. Their conclusion is that he may not have decided yet.
"Israel has waited patiently for the international community to resolve this issue," Netanyahu told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in Washington, D.C. Monday night. "None of us can afford to wait much longer."
"I don't think he has decided conclusively," former U.S. Middle East diplomat Robert Danin, now with the Council on Foreign Relations, told Yahoo News, referring to Netanyahu's decision on possible Israeli strikes on Iran. "He just kicked the ball down the field a few weeks, a few months maybe. But the intensive exchanges between the U.S. and Israel will continue."
How to interpret Netanyahu's timeline for Iran action from his remarks Monday was a topic of hot debate among Israeli journalists and analysts a day later, Danin noted: "Some are arguing that the Prime Minister doesn't want to use force and got sufficient support from President Obama to be able to forestall that option," he said. "Others are arguing the exact opposite: That Mr. Netanyahu, by likening Iranian nuclear facilities to Auschwitz, has boxed himself in."
"I still think it was mostly capitulation dressed up as belligerence," former Israeli peace talks advisor Daniel Levy, now with the New American Foundation, told Yahoo News by email Monday, of Netanyahu's speech.
Though Netanyahu offered the receptive crowd some of his trademark fire and brimstone--repeatedly reserving Israel's right to defend itself and his responsibility to protect the Jewish people from annihilation--he notably used language that seized on Israel's solidarity with the U.S., rather than making a case for why Israel should strike out against Iran on its own, Levy noted.
President Obama, for his part, said his private case to Netanyahu for more time for the Iran diplomatic track doesn't differ much from what he has argued publicly.
"Israel has to make decisions about how to best preserve its security," Obama said Tuesday. "I am deeply mindful of the historical precedents that weigh on any prime minister of Israel when they think about potential threats to Israel and the Jewish homeland. … But it's deeply in everyone's interest to see that this can be resolved in a peaceful fashion."
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- President Obama