President Barack Obama welcomed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House Monday afternoon, and reassured him that the United States will "always have Israel's back" regarding security.
The president hoped his reassurance would urge Netanyahu to refrain from attacking Iran's nuclear sites in the coming months.
The Israeli leader thanked Obama for his kind words, but according to the Huffington Post, he also reiterated that Israel must have the ability to defend itself, and "must remain the master of its fate."
President Obama spoke at the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee's annual policy conference Sunday, urging Israel to give diplomacy a chance. According to the Washington Post, the President assured a large audience of concerned Israeli supporters that he "is willing to use all elements of American power" to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, but he prefers diplomacy over force in dealing with this matter. He wants to let diplomacy run its course, and only plans to use force if absolutely necessary.
"I firmly believe that an opportunity remains for diplomacy-backed by pressure-to succeed," Obama said.
Obama also warned Israel of the costs and risks of attacking Iran's nuclear facilities. An array of economic sanctions against Iran are set to take effect this summer. If Israel strikes before these sanctions take effect, it runs the very serious risk of ending Iran's diplomatic isolation. Rushing to attack would also crack the international coalition now opposing the Islamic Republic's enrichment program.
"I know that both the prime minister and I prefer to resolve this diplomatically, Obama told reporters. "We understand the costs of any military action."
Rather than comment specifically on Obama's statement, Netanyahu instead praised the president's speech to AIPAC Sunday where he pledged to use "all elements of American power" necessary to keep Iran from developing a nuclear program. He then said that Israel and America remain united.
The Washington Post reports that according to administration officials, Obama "made clear to Netanyahu that his policy is not to contain an Iranian nuclear arsenal, but to prevent Iran's leaders from developing one."
Obama also assured Netanyahu that Israel does have the right to act in its own security interests, but he also stressed his view that a diplomatic approach should be exhausted before resorting to military action.
While both sides seemed unified against Iran, US officials are unclear on whether President Obama was successful in convincing Israel to hold off on attacking Iran.
Israeli officials called the "talks" positive, and according to The Washington Post, "both sides agreed on the need to continue economic and political pressures on Iran."
This meeting was a key step in repairing strained relations, not between Israel and the US, but between Obama and Netanyahu. Past meetings between the two leaders have seemed a bit tense, but this time things were refreshingly different.
After his talks with Obama, Netanyahu told Israel's Haaretz Newspaper that the position he presented to president Obama was accepted with understanding.
He noted that he felt respected and understood.
Hours after the meeting, Netanyahu was singing a bit of a different tune In a speech to the American Israeli Political Action Committee's annual policy conference, he said that the time for diplomacy was nearing its end. He said recent economic sanctions have done nothing to stop Iran from building a nuclear weapons program.
"As prime minister, I will never allow my people to live in the shadow of annihilation," Netanyahu told a cheering audience.
In the end, Israel and the US agree that using force against Iran may be inevitable. What they disagree on, however, is how quickly they should take that step. Obama would rather try diplomacy for as long as possible, but Netanyahu and the Israeli people are growing anxious and fearful of the threat a nuclear-armed Iran poses.