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Obama says attack on Iran would be ‘a distraction’

Washington: A war with Iran would be “a distraction” at a time when its key ally Syria was “on the ropes”, President Barack Obama has said in an interview.

Speaking ahead of a high-stakes meeting next week with Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli prime minister, Mr Obama stressed that a “military component” was part of the potential strategy for dealing with Iran and criticised the idea of using a containment strategy should Iran secure a nuclear weapon.

However, he also said the US believed the best solution was a permanent agreement to end Iran’s nuclear weapon ambitions that did not require “constant military intervention”

During the build-up to the meeting with Mr Netanyahu, the Obama administration has been under heavy pressure to take a stronger line on the possible use of military force against Iran, amid widespread speculation about an Israeli attack this year.

As Iran has expanded its uranium enrichment activities at an underground facility in recent months, Israeli officials have warned that the country was close to entering a “zone of immunity” which would make its nuclear programme impregnable to attack.

Israel is hoping to pressure Mr Obama into making more specific statements about the circumstances in which he would consider a military strike.

In the interview with the Atlantic published on Friday, Mr Obama was at pains to emphasise close military and intelligence co-operation with Israel and the dangers to the region of a nuclear Iran. “I think that the Israeli government recognises that, as president of the United States, I don’t bluff,” he said.

But he also presented elements of the US case that sanctions and diplomacy should be given more time. Mr Obama said that the Arab Spring, although uneven in its impact, had been “a strategic defeat for Iran” because it represented impulses towards free speech and self-determination which were constantly violated in Iran and because it was weakening Syria.

“At a time when there is not a lot of sympathy for Iran and its only real ally [Syria] is on the ropes, do we want a distraction in which suddenly Iran can portray itself as a victim?” he asked.

In an indication that Washington believes the Iranian nuclear programme has still to reach a critical point, Mr Obama said that Iran had not yet decided to build a weapon and that it “is not yet in a position to obtain a nuclear weapon without us having a pretty long lead time in which we will know that they are making that attempt”.

A negotiated agreement whereby Iran took nuclear weapons “off the table” was still the best outcome, he said. “Our argument is going to be that it is important for us to see if we can solve this thing permanently, as opposed to temporarily,” he said.

However, when asked if the US could mount the same sort of containment strategy it used against the Soviet Union to deal with a nuclear Iran, Mr Obama echoed many of the concerns Israel has for such an approach.

“You’re talking about the most volatile region in the world,” he said. “It will not be tolerable to a number of states in that region for Iran to have a nuclear weapon and them not to have a nuclear weapon.” Given Iran’s support for terrorist organisations, the risk of proliferation would be “that much more severe.”

The Obama administration has made one concession to Israel, with Hillary Clinton, secretary of state, this week warning that the US wanted to prevent Iran getting “nuclear weapon capability”, rather than just a weapon. Under some readings, the word “capability” brings forward the timing of potential military action, although officials point out that the meaning remains ambiguous.

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Posted by on Mar 3 2012. Filed under World News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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