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Panetta: Setting Iran red lines would paint US into a corner

US defense secretary tell Foreign Policy that in ‘real world’ leaders don’t operate according to red lines

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, foreground, and Joint Chiefs of Staff head Martin Dempsey speaking to a Congressional hearing in 2012. (Department of Defense/Glenn Fawcett)
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, foreground, and Joint Chiefs of Staff head Martin Dempsey speaking to a Congressional hearing in 2012. (Department of Defense/Glenn Fawcett)

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta added his voice to the chorus of American officials rebuffing Israel’s call for “red lines” on Iran, saying he did not want to see the US put in a corner.

“The fact is, look, presidents of the United States, prime ministers of Israel or any other country — leaders of these countries don’t have, you know, a bunch of little red lines that determine their decisions,” he told Foreign policy magazine in an interview published Friday night.

The US and Israel became embroiled in a standoff last week after first US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and then President Barack Obama both publically said they would not set red lines on Iran’s nuclear program, beyond which military action would be used.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called for such lines as a way of calming Israeli fears over Iran’s drive toward a nuclear weapon.

After Clinton’s comments Netanyahu rebuked Washington, saying a country that would not set red lines had no right telling Israel not to take military action itself.

On Friday, Panetta seemed to admonish Netanyahu over his attempt to push the US into committing to an ultimatum, saying that is not how the real world works.

“What [leaders] have are facts that are presented to them about what a country is up to, and then they weigh what kind of action is needed to be taken in order to deal with that situation,” he told the magazine. “I mean, that’s the real world. Red lines are kind of political arguments that are used to try to put people in a corner.”

The US is insistent that it is committed to Israel’s security, even without going along with Netanyahu’s demands.

On Friday, Obama told a group of rabbis that there was no space between Washington and Jerusalem on the Iranian issue.

“There may come a time,” Obama said, that the United States would “exercise a military option” to keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Obama on Thursday said the US’s red line would be a nuclear Iran.

Sources in Jerusalem have said Netanyahu will continue to push for clear red lines on Iran, even despite the blowback.

A senior official in Jerusalem told Yedioth Ahronoth Friday that Netanyahu was adamant about the issue, believing that “as long as Iran isn’t faced with a clear deadline, it will continue to develop nuclear weapons undisturbed.”

The source made the statement following the publication of a New York Times report, earlier Friday, detailing some of the content of an hour-long phone conversation between the two leaders on Tuesday.

According to the report, Obama rejected Netanyahu’s request for the US to specify red lines which, if crossed by Iran, would trigger US military action.

“Mr. Obama deflected Mr. Netanyahu’s proposal to make the size of Iran’s stockpile of close-to-bomb-grade uranium the threshold for a military strike by the United States against its nuclear facilities,” the report said, quoting a senior administration official.

Instead, the president “repeated the assurances he gave to Mr. Netanyahu in March that the United States would not allow Iran to manufacture a nuclear weapon. But the president was unwilling to agree on any specific action by Iran — like reaching a defined threshold on nuclear material, or failing to adhere to a deadline on negotiations — that would lead to American military action.”

JTA contributed to this report.

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