NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told U.S. Vice President Joe Biden Sunday that only a credible military threat can deter Iran from building a nuclear weapon, Israeli political sources said.
In comments signaling growing Israeli impatience with diplomacy, the sources said Netanyahu, beginning a five-day U.S. visit, argued that economic sanctions have failed to persuade Iran to stop its nuclear program.
Netanyahu and Biden met on the sidelines of an American Jewish conference in New Orleans that both are due to address, and also discussed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks suspended in a dispute over building in settlements in the West Bank.
"The only way to ensure that Iran will not go nuclear is to create a credible threat of military action against it if it doesn't cease its race for a nuclear weapon," one of the sources said Netanyahu told Biden.
"The economic sanctions are making it difficult for Iran, but there is no sign that the Ayatollah regime plans to stop its nuclear program because of them."
The tough talk swiftly raised speculation in Israeli media that Netanyahu, who has rebuffed U.S. and international calls to reimpose a freeze on building in West Bank settlements, was trying to shift of his visit away from stalemate.
The West believes that Iran aims to use its uranium enrichment program to build atomic weapons, and both Israel and the United States have said all options are on the table in dealing with its nuclear ambitions.
But Netanyahu had made clear that Israel wanted to see if tough economic sanctions could eliminate what it has described as a threat against its existence.
Tehran denies it is out to produce nuclear arms.
A fuller discussion on Israeli-Palestinian issues will await Netanyahu's scheduled meeting in New York on Thursday with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, one of the sources said.
Netanyahu will not see U.S. President Barack Obama during the trip. Obama is on a visit to Asia.
"Agreement or not, our commitment to your security is unconditional and complete," one of the Israeli sources quoted Biden as telling Netanyahu.
A 10-month moratorium on housing starts in West Bank settlements expired in late September, some three weeks after direct peace talks began in Washington. Clinton said on Thursday she was working nonstop to break the deadlock.
"We are talking about American proposals, together with Israeli ideas," the Israeli source said, without elaborating.
Diplomats said Washington has offered Israel a package of incentives, including ideas on security, to persuade Netanyahu to resume a partial settlement freeze for two months.
The proposals included U.S. backing for Netanyahu's demand for an Israeli military presence along the Jordan river, the likely eastern border of a future Palestinian state.
But Israeli leaders have balked at what the political sources said was the package's vague time frame for the troop deployment, which Palestinians oppose.
A top Palestinian official said last week the Palestinians would give the United States several more weeks to try to relaunch direct peace talks with Israel.
Netanyahu flies to New York on Monday after speaking to the Jewish Federations of North America and will raise in a meeting with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon Israel's objection to any unilateral statehood moves at the U.N. by the Palestinians, an Israeli official said.
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