Disappointing Israel, Clinton says US won’t set deadlines for Iran

Netanyahu has been hoping Obama will specify ‘red lines’ that, if crossed by Iran, would prompt US military action

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, in Netanyahu's office in Jerusalem, in July (photo credit: Ohad Zwigenberg/POOL/FLASH90)
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, in Netanyahu's office in Jerusalem, in July (photo credit: Ohad Zwigenberg/POOL/FLASH90)

The US will not set deadlines for Iran and still considers negotiations and sanctions the best way to halt it from developing nuclear weapons, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Sunday.

The comments were sure to disappoint Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week welcomed reports that the US was considering setting out “red lines” which, if crossed by Iran, would trigger US military action.

Asked if the Obama administration will lay out sharper “red lines” for Iran or state explicitly the consequences for Tehran of its failing to negotiate a deal with world powers over its nuclear program by a certain date, Clinton told Bloomberg, “We’re not setting deadlines.”

“We’re watching very carefully about what they do, because it’s always been more about their actions than their words,” Clinton said in an interview following visits to China and Russia, where she spoke with leaders of both countries to seek cooperation on Iran.

Clinton said China and Russia share the US’s view that Iran must be stopped from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

The possibility of the US announcing its “red lines” on Iran had appeared to be playing a role in calming tensions in the last few days between Israel and the US, which have been publicly at odds in recent weeks over how best to halt the Islamic republic’s nuclear drive.

Last week, after the New York Times reported that the administration was considering setting out certain red lines that, if crossed by Iran in its nuclear drive, would trigger a resort to military force, Netanyahu welcomed the idea. “The greater the resolve and the clearer the red line, the less likely we’ll have conflict,” he said.

A report on Israel’s Channel 10 news last week went so far as to assert that Israel would not attack Iran this year if President Barack Obama sets out his “red lines” and offers certain other promised assurances to Netanyahu at a meeting between the two tentatively scheduled for Thursday, September 27.

The station reported that the two leaders will meet the day after the Jewish High Holiday of Yom Kippur (which falls on September 26), when Netanyahu will be in New York to address the UN General Assembly.

“If Obama gives Israel the promised ‘red lines’ and his personal commitments, Israel will not attack Iran,” the report detailed.

US efforts to dissuade Israel from a resort to force included a visit last week by Admiral James A. Winnefeld, Jr., the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Winnefeld met with Defense Minister Ehud Barak in Tel Aviv on Thursday. After their talks, Barak said the US and Israel “face the same challenge [on Iran] but the clocks are ticking at different paces.” He said “Israel reserves the right to make sovereign decisions. The US respects this. Israel and Israel alone will take the decisions that affect its future and its security.”

Clinton addressed the differences between Israel and the US in her Sunday interview, saying that while the two countries share the goal that Iran not acquire a nuclear weapon, there is a difference in perspective with the Israelis over the time horizon for talks.

“They’re more anxious about a quick response because they feel that they’re right in the bull’s-eye, so to speak,” Clinton said. “But we’re convinced that we have more time to focus on these sanctions, to do everything we can to bring Iran to a good-faith negotiation.”

Asked what Israel was telling the Obama administration behind closed doors, Clinton said, “I don’t think that there’s any difference in their public and their private concerns.”

“They feel that it would be an existential threat if Iran were a nuclear-weaponized state, and no nation can abdicate their self-defense if they feel that they’re facing such a threat,” she said.

At the same time, Clinton said Israel has supported the Obama administration’s effort to unite the international community behind the toughest sanctions ever.

“The sanctions, we know, are having an effect,” she said.


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