President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shown during a welcoming ceremony upon Obama's arrival at Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv in March 2013.
WASHINGTON (USA TODAY) -- President Obama sought to reassure an uneasy Israeli
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday that words alone from Iran's
leadership won't be enough to resolve his administration's concerns
about Tehran's nuclear program.
The effort to assuage Netanyahu's
concerns comes in the midst of signs that there could be a thawing in
the U.S.-Iranian relationship with the elevation a new Iranian
president, who has taken a softer tone with the United States in his
first weeks in power.
"We take no options off the table, including
military," Obama told reporters after meeting Netanyahu. "We have to
test diplomacy. We have to see if in fact they are serious about their
willingness to abide by international norms and international law and
international requirements and resolutions."
The White House visit
by Netanyahu, who will deliver an address before the United Nations
General Assembly on Tuesday in which he said he will reiterate his
concerns about Iran's nuclear program, comes three days after Obama and
Iran's new president, Hasan Rouhani, spoke by phone.
Obama-Rouhani call marked the closest interaction between high-level
U.S. and Iranian leaders since the Carter administration. The two
countries broke off diplomatic relations after militants in Tehran
stormed the U.S. Embassy in 1979 and held 52 hostages for 444 days.
But Netanyahu spoke plainly about his skepticism over Rouhani's diplomatic efforts.
"We have a saying in Hebrew, we call it mivchan hatotza'a --
you would say it in English, What's the bottom line?" Netanyahu said.
"And the bottom line, again, is that Iran fully dismantles its military
STORY: Netanyahu seeks to keep pressure on Iran
and Rouhani traded conciliatory messages in their own addresses before
the General Assembly last week. Rouhani proclaimed Iran had no interest
in developing nuclear weapons and was interested in "constructive
engagement" with the United States. Obama said in his address "the
diplomatic path must be tested" with Iran.
Even before last week's
phone call, Obama and Rouhani, who took office in August, had exchanged
letters, and the White House was cautiously optimistic that Rouhani - a
relative moderate in Iran's political scene - was ready to have serious
talks with the United States and its allies about Iran's nuclear
program because years of sanctions have worn down Iran.
even willing to have a brief meeting with Rouhani on the margins of the
UNGA last week, but the Iranians turned down the offer because of
concerns that Iran's powerful clerical hierarchy was not ready for such
an informal exchange.
Netanyahu says the Iranians are far from
genuine about their willingness to engage in non-proliferation talks and
will use the space created by the thawing to create a nuclear bomb. He
urged Obama not to ease up on sanctions against Iran.
conciliatory words have to be matched by real actions - transparent,
verifiable, meaningful actions," Netanyahu said. "Iran is committed to
Obama underscored that the United States
will closely consult with Israel about future contacts with Iran. "We
enter into these negotiations very clear-eyed," Obama said.
Before leaving for the USA, Netanyahu said
in Israel that he would be blunt about his concerns about Iran. "I will
tell the truth in the face of the sweet talk and the onslaught of
Obama and Netanyahu have had a tense relationship.
a visit to Washington in 2011, Netanyahu embarrassed Obama by lecturing
him about Israel's history in front of journalists. At the G-20 summit
in 2011, a hot microphone caught Obama and then-President Nicolas
Sarkozy of France griping about Netanyahu.
During last year's
presidential campaign, Mitt Romney and other Republicans accused Obama
of throwing "allies like Israel under the bus" and not doing enough to
stand up to Iran.
Last year at the United Nations, Netanyahu held
up a drawing of a cartoon bomb to make his point that Iran was at the
cusp of developing a nuclear weapon. Tuesday, Netanyahu is likely to
again call for the international community to hold a hard line against
Iran's nuclear program backed by the credible threat of force.
and Netanyahu also discussed the status of Israeli-Palestinian peace
talks, which resumed in July, as well as the civil war in Syria and
unrest in Egypt after this summer's ouster of a government led by the
The president also applauded Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for returning to the negotiating table.