Obama warns of 'fallout' for Israel if peace effort fails

WASHINGTON Mon Mar 3, 2014 12:37am EST

U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the winter meeting of the Democratic National Committee in Washington February 28, 2014 file photo. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the winter meeting of the Democratic National Committee in Washington February 28, 2014 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama, issuing a veiled warning to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the eve of talks, said in an interview published on Sunday it would be harder for Washington to defend Israel against efforts to isolate it internationally if U.S.-led Middle East peace talks fail.

Obama, speaking to Bloomberg View, also made clear that he would press Netanyahu to allow him the time needed to test Iran's willingness to curb its nuclear ambitions, despite the Israeli leader's deep skepticism of the West's diplomatic engagement with Tehran.

Responding to the interview, a senior Israeli cabinet minister said the Netanyahu government was serious about peace but would not be pressured into endangering the Jewish state.

Obama said the "the window is closing" for a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, and called on Netanyahu to "seize the moment" to help achieve a framework agreement that Secretary John Kerry is trying to forge to extend peace talks.

Obama said his message to Netanyahu in a White House meeting scheduled for Monday would be: "If not now, when? And if not you, Mr. Prime Minister, then who?"

Obama said if peace talks fail and Israel presses ahead with expansion of Jewish settlements on occupied land in the West Bank, then Washington would have limited ability to protect it from "international fallout."

Though he did not specify what kind of actions Israel might face, Palestinians have threatened to try to join international tribunals where they could make their case against Israel.

The Jewish state is also facing a boycott and divestiture movement that has made some inroads in Europe but has had little impact in the United States.

"What I do believe is that if you see no peace deal and continued aggressive settlement construction and ... if Palestinians come to believe that the possibility of a contiguous sovereign Palestinian state is no longer within reach, then our ability to manage the international fallout is going to be limited," Obama said.

TESTY TIES

Kerry's recent warning that failure to resolve the Palestinian issue could fuel anti-Israel boycotts stirred controversy in Israel, where he was accused of trying to pressure for concessions.

Obama's comments, made in an interview on Thursday, were published shortly before an Oval Office meeting in which Iran is expected to be the thorniest issue. The two leaders have a history of sometimes testy relations.

The Obama interview was received coolly by Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, a Netanyahu confidant who accompanied the prime minister to the United States.

"I didn't like all of the remarks. I think there is no reason to put pressure on Israel," he told Israel's Army Radio.

"Netanyahu will, I think, give a clear answer: 'We are ready for peace. We want to advance a diplomatic accord. But we, rightly, worry about and fear for our national security.'"

In the interview, Obama repeated his opposition to any congressional move to impose further sanctions on Iran while it is engaged in talks with Washington and other world powers.

"It is profoundly in all of our interests to let this process play itself out," Obama said. " Let us test whether or not Iran can move far enough to give us assurances that their program is peaceful."

Saying that new sanctions would derail diplomacy, Obama said: "You don't start shooting in the middle of the room during the course of negotiations."

However, Obama did not touch on the main point of contention - Netanyahu's demand that Iran be forced, in a final nuclear deal, to dismantle all of its uranium enrichment centrifuges, compared to the president's suggestion that Tehran could be allowed a small program for civilian purposes.

Steinitz said the current course of the diplomacy could turn Iran into a "nuclear threshold state" - with the required infrastructure to get the bomb in short order.

Obama insisted that, contrary to Netanyahu's assertions, existing sanctions on Iran are largely holding. He also expressed confidence that Tehran was convinced he was keeping all options on the table, including military action, should diplomacy fail and Iran seek to develop a nuclear weapon.

"I know they take it seriously," Obama said.

Iran says it is not seeking a nuclear bomb and that its nuclear program is strictly for peaceful civilian purposes.

(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick, Mark Felsenthal and Dan Williams; Editing by Eric Walsh)

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Comments (32)
Trichiurus wrote:
So speaks our anti-Semitic President and pro-Islamic head of state.

Obama does exactly what many did in pre-WWII Europe; blame the Jews for everything—and I’m not even Jewish.

He supports only thugs and cringes at real threats to us and the world. Like a cowardly abusive spouse, he abuses those at home and presents a different face outside of his home.

Mar 02, 2014 10:32pm EST  --  Report as abuse
Reuters1945 wrote:
“Saying the “the window is closing” for a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, Obama called on Netanyahu to “seize the moment” to help achieve a framework agreement that Secretary John Kerry is trying to forge to extend peace talks.”

“Dejas Vu” all over again !!

How many times have we been subjected to this tired old phrase about “windows” closing and “last chances” for Peace.

If we have heard these words once, we have heard them one thousand times before.

Don’t the White House spin doctors even bother to occasionally read their own past teleprompter speeches written for the Dear Leader to deliver.

America went berserk during the Cuban Missile crisis at the thought of weapons of mass destruction being positioned 90 miles off its shores.

But the State of Israel, totally surrounded by mortal enemies on all sides, is expected to allow people who are publically sworn to Israel’s destruction to set up shop immediately next to that nation’s central and vulnerable underbelly from where rockets and missiles will be capable of reaching its capitol, Jerusalem, as well as Tel Aviv, in less than 60 (Sixty) seconds.

It is not going to happen, not now- not ever.

The State of Israel will be around long after the Dear Leader and his Secretary of State are long gone and remembered chiefly as a major disappointment to all the people, (including myself), who voted for him, naively falling for all the endless rants and rhetoric about “Change”.

Of course to be fair, the only alternatives in those Presidential elections were Senator John “Bomb, Bomb” McCain the first time around and a man who kept most of his personal wealth in “Off Shore” Banks, the second time around.

Thus, not very credible “alternatives” to put in the Oval Office where their hands would be within arm’s reach of the “Red button”.

The only “closing windows” of any importance now to most Americans is the window closing on this presently “serving” President, which cannot close, it seems, fast enough for most Americans.

God only knows what types of choices Americans can expect to be presented with come the next Presidential election cycle.

The names “floated” so far are enough to make the hairs stand up on one’s neck and make one’s blood run cold.

May the gods decide to come to America’s assistance- and soon.

Mar 02, 2014 10:57pm EST  --  Report as abuse
@Trichiurus: Hard to believe that you are not jewish, every pointer in your argument says so. Why is Obama anti semetic? is that the best argument you can come up with. The whole world is watching and getting tired of Israel’s constant mantra of war and aggression usurping Palestinian lands and displacing ethnically based people. You think this will go on forever, well here’s a piece of news not for long. The sooner Israel makes peace he better of Israelies are.

Mar 02, 2014 11:02pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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