The Obama administration poured cold water Monday on any notion it is giving Israel the green light to attack Iran or that it is reconsidering plans to engage diplomatically with the Islamic republic.
Vice President Joe Biden said in an interview broadcast Sunday that the United States would not stand in the way of Israel in its dealings with Iran's nuclear ambitions.
But State Department spokesman Ian Kelly rebuffed suggestions from reporters that Biden could be seen as giving the Jewish state a green light to attack Iran, which it views as an existential threat.
"I certainly would not want to give a green light to any kind of military action," Kelly said, repeating Biden's point that Washington considered Israel a "sovereign country" with a right to make its own military decisions.
"We're not going to dictate its actions," Kelly added.
"We're also committed to Israel's security. And we share Israel's deep concerns about Iran's nuclear program," the spokesman said.
He also refuted any idea that President Barack Obama's administration would drop its policy to engage diplomatically with Iran.
"I wouldn't read into it any more than what you see, then, as I said, that we respect Israel's sovereignty," Kelly said when asked if Biden's comments indicated the administration is reconsidering its policy toward Iran.
Analysts say Iran's crackdown on demonstrators disputing the June 12 presidential election has made it harder for the Obama administration to pursue diplomatic engagement with Iran.
In his interview with ABC television, Biden said: "Israel can determine for itself -- it's a sovereign nation -- what's in their interest and what they decide to do relative to Iran and anyone else."
"We cannot dictate to another sovereign nation what they can and cannot do when they make a determination, if they make a determination, that they're existentially threatened," he said.
But Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaking on "Fox News Sunday," warned of the dangers posed by any military strike against Iran, even if military options should be left on the table.
Obama has said he wants to see progress on his diplomatic outreach to Iran by year's end, while not excluding a "range of steps," including tougher sanctions, if Tehran continued its controversial nuclear drive.
Hawkish Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not ruled out a possible military strike against Iran.
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