Friday, March 15, 2013

Obama: Iran more than a year away from nuclear weapon

By Becky Bratu, Staff Writer, NBC News

Iran is "over a year or so" away from developing a nuclear weapon and the United States remains committed to preventing that from happening, President Barack Obama told a reporter in an interview aired Thursday on Israeli television.

Obama told Channel 2 TV ahead of his first visit to Israel as president that a nuclear Iran continues to be a "red line" for the United States, but that there is still a window of opportunity ? "not an infinite period of time" ??to resolve the issue diplomatically.

"Right now, we think that it would take over a year or so for Iran to actually develop a nuclear weapon, but obviously we don't want to cut it too close, and what we're going to be doing is to continue to engage internationally with Iran," Obama said, adding that his communication with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the topic is ongoing.

"So, what I'm consulting (on) with Bibi as I have over the last several years on this issue, my message to him is the same as before: If we can resolve it diplomatically, that's a more lasting solution, but if not I continue to keep all options on the table," Obama said.

Iran has maintained its nuclear program is peaceful and designed to produce energy.

While the U.S. has favored diplomacy and economic sanctions to pressure Iran to halt its nuclear development, Israel has threatened several times it would take military action if Iran got close to obtaining a bomb.

In the interview, however, Obama sought to reassure that the two countries share the same goal.

"Our goal here is to make sure that Iran does not possess a nuclear weapon that could threaten Israel or could trigger an arms race in the region that would be extraordinarily dangerous at a time when obviously there are already ... a lot of things going on," he said.

Obama also emphasized that he and Netanyahu "have a terrific businesslike relationship" that keeps Israel's security and U.S. support at the forefront.

Obama is due to arrive in Israel on Wednesday for a three-day trip, which will be his third visit to the country but his first as president.

The president said he intends to meet with political leaders inside Israel, including Netanyahu, but also with Palestinian officials such as Salam Fayyad, prime minister of the Palestinian National Authority, and President Mahmoud Abbas.

"My goal on this trip is to listen," Obama said, adding that it is in the interest of both Israelis and Palestinians to advance their peace process and a two-state solution.

"It's going to involve the Palestinians actually feeling like they have got a land of their own, and autonomy and the capacity to govern and to set up businesses and to prosper, and that they have self-determination," he said.

"And for the Israelis, it's going to require them having the confidence that that doesn't come at the price of Israeli security."


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