President Barack Obama persuaded Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in their talks in Jerusalem this week to give Tehran three more months to work through nuclear diplomacy with the P5+1 group of world powers (US, Russia, France, UK, China and Germany), DEBKAfile discloses. After June, this format for resolving the Iranian nuclear issue will be judged to have run its course.
When the US president said “There is still time for diplomacy,” he added, “But Iran must know this. Time is not unlimited. Whatever time is left, there’s not a lot of time.”
When Netanyahu pointed out that the US and Israel might have different timetables and called for “a clear and credible threat of military action,” because “the clock is ticking,” Obama replied that all options were on the table and “We will do whatever is necessary to prevent Iran from getting the world’s worst weapons” - a pledge he repeated in his speech to Israeli students Thursday, March 21.
Talking to reporters Wednesday, the US president allowed, “Each country has to make its own decisions… when it comes to engaging in military action. And Israel is differently situated than the United States.”
This public exchange of views undoubtedly sparked Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s bellicose televised rejoinder Thursday: “At times the officials of the Zionist regime threaten to launch a military invasion,” he said. “But they themselves know that if they make the slightest mistake, the Islamic Republic will raze Tel Aviv and Haifa to the ground.”
In private, DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources disclose, the American and Israeli leaders agreed to keep the diplomatic window open until after Iran’s presidential election on June 24. This does not necessarily mean that a joint US-Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities - or a lone Israeli military strike - will go forward the next day; only that a timeline for bringing the military option forward ahead of the diplomatic track is now before Tehran.
Obama explained to Netanyahu that he owed Khamenei the freedom to conduct Iran’s presidential election campaign without a bludgeon hanging over his head, in return for the same courtesy the Iranian leader afforded him in the run-up to his own re-election last November. In the campaign for his candidate, said the president, Khamenei can’t afford to show weakness by making concessions on the national nuclear program. After that, Obama trusts he will be more flexible.
All in all, on one pretext or another, Tehran has been able to shake off any “credible threat of military action” to curb its nuclear program for a decade or more. And there is no guarantee that things will be different after June 24.