Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has renewed his demand that the US set out clear “red lines” for Iran over its nuclear program, in remarks likely to put further strain on his relationship with US President Barack Obama in the run-up to the US presidential election.
In interviews on US television networks to mark the Jewish new year, Netanyahu repeated his call for the US to clarify the point at which it would take military action rather than allow the Iranian nuclear program to advance.
“You have to place that red line before them now, before it’s too late,” Netanyahu told NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday.
Iran will be on the brink of nuclear weapons capability by next spring, he added.
He also sought to link Iran’s nuclear program to the murder of the US ambassador to Libya.
“Iran is guided by a leadership with an unbelievable fanaticism. It’s the same fanaticism that you see storming your embassies today. You want these fanatics to have nuclear weapons?” he said.
Both US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta have dismissed Netanyahu’s demand for clear red lines. In an interview with Foreign Policy magazine, Panetta accused Netanyahu of trying to force the US into a corner.
“The fact is ... presidents of the United States, prime ministers of Israel or any other country ... don’t have, you know, a bunch of little red lines that determine their decisions,” he said. “What they have are facts that are presented to them about what a country is up to, and then they weigh what kind of action is needed in order to deal with that situation. I mean, that’s the real world. Red lines are kind of political arguments that are used to try to put people in a corner.”
Last week, Clinton bluntly told Bloomberg Radio: “We’re not setting deadlines.”
The row deepened when Israeli officials claimed that Obama had declined to meet Netanyahu when he visits the US toward the end of this month, characterizing the move as a deliberate snub. White House officials played down the matter.
However, there are suspicions in Washington that Netanyahu is trying to use the US election as leverage to bounce Obama into taking a more hawkish line on Iran. Netanyahu has failed to conceal his preference for Obama’s rival, Republican candidate Mitt Romney, who has hinted that he would push for military action against Iran. Romney’s chief bankroller, Sheldon Adelson, is also a staunch supporter of the Israeli prime minister.