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Netanyahu keeps up Iran pressure on Obama

17 September 2012, 13:12

Washington — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has redoubled efforts to pull the US deeper into the confrontation with Iran over its suspect nuclear programme, a push that coincides with Republican challenger Mitt Romney's attempts to convince American voters that President Barack Obama is weak on foreign policy.

Netanyahu spoke only days after the killing of the US ambassador and three other Americans in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi last week marked the most dramatic in a series of global Islamic protests at US diplomatic posts against a California-made film that denigrates the Prophet Muhammad.

Netanyahu said little, if anything, new on the Iranian nuclear programme in two interviews aired on NBC and CNN on Sunday morning television news programmes in the United States.

More of note was the timing of the Netanyahu remarks to an American audience in the final weeks of the US presidential campaign.

The message implicitly fit in with Romney's harsh rhetoric on Iran. Romney, like Obama, has said he would not allow Iran to add a nuclear weapon to its arsenal.

The Republican nominee has been critical of Obama for not acting quickly or forcefully enough, but has not offered specifics about what he would do that is different. Neither Obama nor Romney have called for US military intervention any time soon.

Solo attack

Obama insists that time remains for tough sanctions imposed by the US and its allies to force a diplomatic solution.

Netanyahu argues time is running out and that Washington must quickly draw "red lines" past which Iran cannot move in its nuclear programme without engendering an American military attack.

Netanyahu has threatened that Israel would attack Iran alone if it determines Tehran is reaching a point beyond which the Israeli military could do little to stop the march toward building a nuclear weapon.

The United States, its Western allies and Israel all accuse Iran of using what it says is a nuclear programme designed only for electricity generation and medical research as cover to build a weapon.

The savvy Netanyahu, who lived many years in the United States and once worked at the same financial firm as Romney, denied he was intervening in the US presidential race.

He and Obama have a cool relationship, and earlier this summer he accorded Romney the trappings of a visiting head of state when the candidate made a gaffe-filled foreign tour to build his standing on foreign policy.

Obama apologies

As Muslim demonstrators threaten US diplomatic missions throughout the Islamic world, Netanyahu's remarks on NBC sought to draw on the violence to bolster his argument.

"Iran, with nuclear weapons, would mean that the kind of fanaticism that you see storming your embassies would have a nuclear weapon. Don't let these fanatics have nuclear weapons," he said.

That came on the heels of renewed Romney assertions that Obama had run a foreign policy in the Islamic world that was based on apologies for past American actions, especially in the Arab world.

Romney then amped up his criticism in the first hours of the start of the current chaos at US embassies, by ill-timed remarks that the Obama administration was not standing up for US ideals.

He spoke before an assault on the US embassy in Cairo and the attack on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in which Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed.

Romney came under heavy political fire for those remarks and even sterner comments the next day. He was blasted by Democrats and some Republicans for issuing statements before he knew the facts and for breaking with the US tradition of bipartisanship in times of foreign crises.

Nuclear calendar

Romney and his surrogates also have been deeply critical of Obama's handling of US-Israeli relations, with some Republican surrogates saying the administration has "thrown Israel under the bus".

Netanyahu denied he was joining that argument. Asked if he viewed Romney as the candidate who would keep Israel safer, the Israeli leader told NBC:

"God, I'm not going to be drawn into the American election. And what's guiding my statements is not the American political calendar, but the Iranian nuclear calendar."

But his appearance on widely viewed and important US television news programmes when he did, whether knowingly or not, could affect the outcome of the race.

While the struggling US economy is the top issue among American voters, much of Romney's most conservative base, especially evangelical Christians, are determined to tie the United States even more closely to the needs of Israel.

Netanyahu contends Iran poses an existential threat and would use a nuclear weapon to make good on his rhetorical threats to wipe Israel off the map.

While polls show Obama gaining ground on Romney's standing among voters as the best candidate to handle the economy, the president holds a significant lead as the best man to run US foreign policy.

Romney sees the turmoil in the Islamic world and attacks on US embassies as an opportunity to cut into that advantage. He no doubt is taking pleasure, as well, over the timing of Netanyahu's remarks and the audience he was addressing.

- AP


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