President Obama today sought to reassure Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the United States still has Israel’s back.
On Monday, Obama and Netanyahu met at the White House, just three days after Obama’s historic phone call with the leader of Iran.
Newly-elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Obama spoke on the phone on Friday, marking the highest-level direct contact between the two countries in more than 30 years.
Obama vowed to proceed with caution toward a potential diplomatic resolution to the Iranian nuclear standoff, and reaffirmed an “unshakable bond” with the Israeli people.
“Because of the extraordinary sanctions… the Iranians are now prepared, it appears, to negotiate,” Obama said, adding that negotiations “will not be easy” and that lifting sanctions would require “the highest standards of verification.”
Obama promised to consult Israel and other allies closely and pledged to “take no actions off the table, including military options.”
Long a source of tension between the Israel and the U.S., the Iranian nuclear program is once again in the spotlight, after Rouhani called for an end to nuclear arms during a speech at the U.N. last week.
Netanyahu told reporters Monday that the military threat and pressure of sanctions against Iran must be kept in place in order for diplomacy to work, and called on Obama not to lessen either until Iran presented verifiable proof of progress.
Israel announced on Sunday the arrest of an Iranian spy caught photographing the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. The news came at an opportune time for Netanyahu, whose stern language over the weekend warned of distrust over Rouhani’s intentions.
While Obama on Monday reinforced his step-by-step approach toward dealing with Iran’s nuclear program, which Iranian officials insist is for civilian energy use, Secretary of State John Kerry said in an interview on Sunday that a deal could be reached quickly.
“It’s possible to have a deal sooner than [the 3-6 months Rouhani called for] depending on how forthcoming and clear Iran is prepared to be,” Kerry said.
“If it is a peaceful program, and we can all see that – the whole world sees that – the relationship with Iran can change dramatically for the better and it can change fast,” Kerry said.
In a separate interview, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif talked about Iran’s right to peaceful nuclear enrichment, and said the country would be willing to allow inspections. He called on the U.S. to lift “its illegal sanctions against Iran,” which Kerry said the U.S. would be willing to do once a “verifiable, accountable, transparent process is in place.”
The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany and Iran plan to meet in Geneva on October 15-16 to further discuss Iran’s nuclear program.
During Monday’s meeting and working lunch, Obama and Netanyahu were also set to discuss developments in Syria as well as final status negotiations with the Palestinians, according to a statement by the White House.
Netanyahu praised Kerry’s work toward a Mideast peace deal and reiterated his commitment to the peace process. He is slated to speak at the U.N. on Tuesday.