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Netanyahu to Meet Obama on March 5

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is expected to meet with US President Barack Obama in Washington during his March 4-6 AIPAC visit.
By Gabe Kahn.
First Publish: 2/20/2012, 9:49 PM

Netanyahu and Obama in NYC
Netanyahu and Obama in NYC
Flash 90

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will meet with US President Barack Obama in Washington on March 5.

According to Obama's National Security Adviser Tom Donilon the two leaders will discuss the "full range of security issues of mutual concern."

Netanyahu will be in Washington to address the annual policy conference of the influential pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, which will be held on March 4-6.

Donilon just concluded three days of talks with Israeli leaders in Jerusalem amid escalating tensions over on Iran's nuclear program. He met with Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and others.

The White House described the talks as a reflection of the Obama administration's "unshakeable commitment to Israel's security."

However, officials in Israel and the US have been increasingly at odds on how to deal with Iran, which both - along with other Western nations and Gulf Arab states - say is seeking nuclear weapons.

Israeli officials are said to favor a pre-emptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities saying the window for decisive action is closing as Iran "enters the immunity zone."

The Obama administration insists sanctions are having the desired effect and need more time.

Previously, Netanyahu publicly backed the White House led sanctions - but is said to have expressed reservations in closed-door sessions of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and defense committee.

However, last week Netanyahu openly said Western sanctions are "not working." The Prime Minister's change in public posture came after a series of terror attacks targeting Israeli diplomats in Asia, which he accused Iran of mounting.

His comments came shortly before Defense Intelligence Agency director Lieutenant General Ronald Burgess told US lawmakers Thursday "we assess that Tehran is not close to agreeing to abandon its nuclear program."

Critics of Obama's sanctions-only policy note that North Korea succeeded in detonating two nuclear weapons in secret tests despite crippling sanctions, and widespread poverty and starvation in the country.

The US has urged Israel not to attack Iran's nuclear facilities. Observers say recent leaks in the Obama administration appear to have been designed to hamstring an Israeli strike on Iran.

On January 31, Sen. Diane Feinstein leaked that Mossad chief Tamir Pardo was in Washington for secret talks on a possible Iran strike.

Then, just days later, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta revealed Israel's likely timetable for such an attack when he told reporters  "a strong likelihood" that Israel would strike Iran in April, May or June,

US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey on Sunday said an attack on Iran is "not prudent."

Dempsey told CNN that Israel has the capability to strike Iran and delay the Iranians "probably for a couple of years. But some of the targets are probably beyond their reach."

However, proponents of Obama's policy note that the White House continues to say it needs more time, which an Israeli strike would almost certainly provide.

Dempsey also expressed concern that an Israeli attack could spark reprisals against US targets in the Gulf or Afghanistan, where American forces are based.

"That's the question with which we all wrestle. And the reason that we think that it's not prudent at this point to decide to attack Iran," Dempsey said.

However, senior Israeli officials in private conversations have expressed the belief that the White House desperately wants to avoid a spike in oil prices a strike might cause as the presidential elections looms on its political horizon.

The weak US economy has been in a holding pattern and Federal Reserve officials have frozen interest rates saying they do not expect recovery to begin until 2014.

British Foreign Minister William Hague told the BBC that London was convinced diplomacy was the only way to deal with Iran.

"I don't think a wise thing at this moment is for Israel to launch a military attack on Iran," he said. "I think Israel like everyone else in the world should be giving a real chance to the approach we have adopted on very serious economic sanctions and economic pressure and the readiness to negotiate with Iran."

Israeli analysts, however, say that what is "wise" for Israel may not be what is wise for Europe, stuck in the quagmire of a sovereign debt crisis, or the United States.

While Western capitals are primarily concerned with the economic impact a strike on Iran's nuclear facilities may have, officials in Jerusalem are primarily concerned with the potential impact of not attacking.

Iranian officials have repeatedly called for the Jewish state's destruction and have referred to Israel as a "one bomb state."

In Jerusalem, an Iranian nuclear weapon is an existential risk leaders have said they don't believe Israel can afford.