Tags: Israel | obama | jewish | leaders | iran | nuclear | israel

Obama to Jewish Leaders: Stop 'Chest-Beating' over Iran

Sunday, 10 Mar 2013 09:47 PM

President Barack Obama promised a group of Jewish leaders that he would stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons but said he’s refraining from “extra chest-beating” as he pursues a diplomatic solution.

The hour-long meeting with some two dozen American Jewish leaders Thursday was closed to the press, but the Israeli daily Haaretz managed to nevertheless get comments from those who met with the president in advance of his upcoming trip to the Jewish state.

Israel and the United States share the same intelligence on Iran and therefore have a good understanding of how close the Islamic Republic is to having a functioning nuclear weapon, Obama told the leaders. Still, the allies are divided over where to draw the “red line” from which there is no choice but to attack Iran, Obama reportedly said.

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Obama also reportedly quoted a Chinese saying attributed to military strategist Sun Tzu, according to Haaretz: “Build a golden bridge for your opponent to retreat upon.”

When one leader told him that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israelis said they wanted more “clarity” concerning the U.S. position on Iran, Obama replied: “But that isn’t because we haven’t been clear,” Haaretz stated.

The president also was adamant in that he was not bringing any kind of a peace plan to unveil on his trip. There would be no surprise policy announcements, White House officials told Haaretz on background. Instead, there will be a wide-ranging discussion on a wide variety of issues: Iran, Syria, the situation in the region, and the Palestinian peace process.”

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Major American Jewish Organizations, told Haaretz the meeting with Obama was a positive one and that he believes the president will have an excellent visit in Israel.

In addition to his meetings with Netanyahu, Obama will hold talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He told the Jewish leaders Thursday that he would emphasize to Abbas that peace remains possible, though very difficult given the current climate in the region.

Pursuing sweeping peace talks now would be premature, given that Israel is still working to form a new government, Obama said. But he added that doesn't preclude him from launching a peace effort in six months or a year, according to the person in attendance, who was not authorized to discuss the gathering publicly and requested anonymity.

The White House has not announced the dates for the president's trip, although Israeli news media have reported he will arrive on March 20. Obama will also make stops in the West Bank town of Ramallah, and Jordan.

The president sought to restart peace talks in 2011, but the effort collapsed within weeks. Palestinians refuse to resume negotiations unless Israel stops building settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Netanyahu says talks should resume without any preconditions, and he has allowed stepped-up construction in the territories since the United Nations moved to recognize a de facto state of Palestine in November.

The White House did not put the meeting with Jewish leaders on the president's public schedule. A White House official later said Obama sought input from the leaders on his trip and underscored that it would be an opportunity for him to speak directly to the Israeli people.

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Marc Stanley, chairman of the National Jewish Democratic Council, was among those who attended Thursday's meeting. He said Obama reiterated his "unshakeable support for Israel and explained that his upcoming trip will be focused on discussing with his Israeli counterparts the critical issues facing the Jewish state, including Iran, the peace process and Syria."

While in Israel, Obama is also expected to note that Israelis live in an increasingly dangerous region, given the instability in Syria and the potential nuclear threat from Iran. He'll likely reiterate that all options, including military force, remain on the table for the U.S. when it comes to dealing with Iran, while also touting the impact of strict economic sanctions.

Material from the Associated Press was also used in this story.

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