President Obama meets with Prime Minister Netanyahu on May 18 (Photo by White House photographer Pete Souza, available at Wikimedia Commons).

May 29, 2009

U.S.-Israeli Dialogue on Iran


On May 24, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen reiterated that “Iran’s strategic objective is to achieve nuclear weapons,” – a path that the Iranian leadership remains committed to.[1] Next week, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak will visit Washington as part of an ongoing dialogue between the United States and Israel concerning policy options related to Iran’s nuclear pursuits.[2] Barak’s visit follows Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s trip to Washington last week where he held a private meeting and press conference with President Barack Obama. The meeting between the leaders, according to Israeli officials, resulted in the formation of a U.S.-Israel “working group” on Iran to include intelligence sharing, contingency planning, and assessments of U.S.-Iran engagement.[3] 

When President Obama met with Prime Minister Netanyahu on May 18, the discussion surrounding the Iranian nuclear program figured prominently on the agenda. The two leaders discussed “the deepening concern around the potential pursuit of a nuclear weapon by Iran,” and President Obama reiterated the assertion that Iran’s possession of a nuclear weapon threatens American and Israeli interests – as well as those of the region and international community.[4] For his part, Prime Minister Netanyahu sounded concerns over a potential “nuclear umbrella for terrorists” in the event that Iran acquires a nuclear weapon. Netanyahu also praised President Obama’s “firm commitment to ensure that Iran does not develop nuclear military capability” and his intention to leave “all options on the table.”[5] Israeli officials indicated that while Netanyahu supported the U.S.-Iran engagement process in principle, he “pressed for a timetable for negotiations” and sought a firm commitment from President Obama “about what would happen if diplomacy doesn't persuade Iran to end uranium enrichment.”[6]  

Though President Obama did not explicitly refer to “all options,” Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell stated on May 19 that the U.S. “has been consistent about one thing, that no options are off the table. However, it is clearly the preference of this president and this secretary of Defense to reach out and try to engage Iran, and try to diplomatically and economically persuade them not to pursue their nuclear weapons program.”[7] Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak underscored on May 19 that “The state of Israel believes that the period allocated to sanctions should be limited and short and come immediately after dialogue, which should also be brief. Israel is not taking any option off the table and we recommend that others also keep all of the options on the table.”[8]

President Obama indicated that his administration is “engaged in a process to reach out to Iran and persuade them that it is not in their interest to pursue a nuclear weapon and they should change course.” In the context of alternative policy options, President Obama explicitly referred to “a range of steps” to include a “stronger international sanctions” program.[9] For the near-term, President Obama offered the opaque contours of the channel and timeline for his administration’s engagement tactic. Following Iran’s June presidential elections, President Obama indicated that there would be a “serious process of engagement, first through the P5-plus-one process” and “potentially through additional direct talks between the United States and Iran.”[10] 

President Obama did not set a deadline for the engagement process, however, assuming the engagement process between the U.S. and Iran begins shortly after the June elections, President Obama contended that, by the end of 2009, “we should have a fairly good sense…as to whether [talks] are moving in the right direction and whether the parties involved are making progress and that there’s a good faith effort to resolve differences.”[11] A week before the American and Israeli leaders met, a media report citing senior officials indicated that the Obama administration was targeting early October as a potential benchmark date to assess whether engagement was making progress “or should lead to sanctions.”[12]

Following a separate meeting between Secretary of State Clinton and Prime Minister Netanyahu, a senior State Department official described Secretary Clinton’s message on Iran as one that articulated the administration’s “strategy for direct engagement as a means to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapons capability.”[13] Later in the week, during a hearing before the Senate Appropriations committee, Secretary Clinton testified that the administration is “deploying new approaches to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.”[14]

The meetings between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu elicited various responses – and preceded the announcement of 1,200 mile-range missile launch previously tested in November – from Iranian officials, which are highlighted below alongside reactions from U.S. officials and the international community. [15]

Reactions to Obama-Netanyahu Meeting


President Mahmoud Ahmadeinejad:

“We regard the trend of negotiations as positive because their tone has greatly changed… They [world powers] have now announced that they have to tolerate Iran -- an indication that the Islamic Republic has overcome high mountains.”[16]

Secretary of Iran's Permanent Committee on Passive Defense Davoud Ahmadinejad:

“Washington's hawkish policies ruined the United States' reputation throughout the world and this forced US officials to resort to the Obama scenario to improve their situation.”[17]

Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki:

“Since assuming office, the new U.S. president has proposed new outlooks and we also witness changes in his rhetoric that differ from his predecessor, but these words should be translated into action.”[18]

Presidential Advisor for International Affairs Hamid Holana:

The meeting between Barack Obama and Binyamin Netanyahu was a “media hype gesture” due to a decline of American and Israeli regional power.[19]

Ambassador to Berlin, Alireza Shiekh Attar:

 “If they [Israel and the United States] take such [military] action [against Iran’s nuclear facilities], they will certainly lose a lot.”[20]

Oil Minister Gholamhossein Nozari:

 “They [US government] threaten us with sanctions on gasoline imports, but we welcome gasoline sanctions, and presently have the capability to meet the country’s gasoline needs within 48 hours.”[21]



Defense Minister Ehud Barak:

“I spoke with Netanyahu last night. I think that this is the beginning of a serious dialogue with the Americans.”[22]

“I believe this is the right approach and that most regional leaders, and certainly us in Israel, believe this is the right path. I was glad to hear that the president understands that the Iranian issue is a serious one. The challenge is not only how to negotiate with the Iranians, but also what to do if it turns out that they continue to strive for military nuclear power.”[23]

“We have stated our stance and we aren't hiding it from the Americans…The state of Israel believes that the period allocated to sanctions should be limited and short and come immediately after dialogue, which should also be brief. Israel is not taking any option off the table and we recommend that others also keep all of the options on the table.”[24]

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman:

“Israel and the US share an understanding on strategic goals, first and foremost dismantling Iran from the ability to attain non-conventional arms... Their methods may differ, but there is agreement on the goals. The argument is tactical.”[25]

Aryeh Eldad of the Knesset:

“There is cause for real concern, because the United States is shrugging off its historic duty to guarantee Israel's security. The United States is willing, in practice, to resign itself to a nuclear Iran, as a result of which Israel has been left facing Iran on its own.”[26]



Outgoing IAEA Director Mohamed El-Baradei:

“I think that the Freeze for Freeze [preceding three words published in English] plan is the next realistic step: Iran would not install any further centrifuges, and the West would not impose further sanctions. During this time, intensive negotiations would take place. Given the complexity of the issue, the negotiation period should be as long as necessary.”[27]

“It would be completely foolish to attack Iran. This would turn the entire region into a huge fireball, and the Iranians would immediately start building the bomb - and they could count on the backing of the entire Islamic world.”[28] 

Hezbollah Secretary-General Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah:

 “The final battle that the US and Israel are waging in the region is a fight between Iran and Arab nations and Shia and Sunni Muslims… If we foil such a plot to create the conflict, the US and Israel can no longer use its wicked weapon.”[29]

Former German President Richard von Weizsaecker:

Obama’s diplomatic approach to Iran was “really good” for the US to pursue.[30]



Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:

“Until we have tested, within the time period set forth by the president, where we think this engagement is going, I am not sure that adding new unilateral sanctions is really that helpful… We already have a lot of sanctions on the books but the most effective ones are the ones that we have been able to persuade a lot of our partners to pursue as well.”[31]

“A nuclear armed Iran with a deliverable weapon system is going to spark an arms race in the Middle East.”[32]

The “alliance which has come together of Israel and many of her Arab neighbors against Iran obtaining nuclear weapons is an opportunity that will enable us both to move forward with our engagement regarding Iran and our commitment to pursue diplomacy and to build a multilateral coalition.”[33]

Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry:

‘“[I was] encouraged by a number of things” Netanyahu said earlier during a meeting with committee members.’[34]

Representative Tom Price (GA):

“A strong, strategic missile defense system will go a long way toward preventing a constant threat of attack by rogue nations,” including the “very real danger of a hostile Iran.”[35]

Pentagon  press secretary Geoff Morrell:

“[Secretary Gates] shares the prime minister's concern that Iran's nuclear ambitions threaten not just Israel and the U.S., but could spark an arms race in the Middle East that would further destabilize the region.”[36]

“Secretary [Gates] reiterated President Obama's commitment to try to engage Iran and offer incentives to persuade them to change course in order to become a full-fledged member of the international community… However, should Iran rebuff the U.S. initiative, the Secretary told the Prime Minister there would be serious consequences, including much stronger international sanctions.”[37]

CIA Director Leon Panetta:

“[Netanyahu] understands that if Israel goes it alone, it will mean big trouble. He knows that for the sake of Israeli security, they have to work together with others.”[38]

“Iran is a destabilizing force in the Middle East. Even though the administration is moving toward diplomatic engagement with that country, no one is naive about the challenges… The judgment of the U.S. intelligence community is that Iran, at a minimum, is keeping open the option to develop deliverable nuclear weapons. It is our judgment that Iran halted weaponization in 2003, but it continues to develop uranium enrichment technology and nuclear-capable ballistic missiles.”[39]


Reactions to Iran’s Missile Test of Sejjil 2


President Mahmoud Ahmadeinejad:

"The defence minister (Mohammad Mostafa Najjar) told me today that we launched a Sejil-2 missile, which is a two-stage missile and it has reached the intended target…I was told that the missile is able to go beyond the atmosphere then come back and hit its target. It works on solid fuel." [40]



Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon:

“If anyone had any doubts that the Iranians were playing with fire, today is proof.”[41]



Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon:

“Canada calls on Iran to immediately cease its ballistic missile programs and engage positively in reaching peaceful solutions to its regional concerns… Provocative actions such as this missile test run counter to efforts to reduce tensions in the region.”[42]



Pentagon Spokesman Bryan Whitman:

“Iran is at a bit of a crossroads. They have a choice to make…They [Iranian government] can either continue on this path of continued destabilization of the region or they can decide that they want to pursue relationships with countries in the region and the United States that are more normalized.”[43]

Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen:

“I'm one who believes that Iran getting a nuclear weapon is calamitous for the region and for the world… It then, in my view, generates neighbors who feel exposed, deficient and then develop or buy the capability themselves.”[44]

[1] Admiral Mike Mullen, ABC News “This Week” Interview, May 24, 2009.  Accessed May 25, 2009.
[2] “Israel’s Barak To US Next Week For Iran Talks,” Agence France Presse, May 25, 2009.  Accessed May 26, 2009.
[3] Lake, Eli, “U.S., Israel Forming Working Group On Iran,” The Washington Times, May 20, 2009.  Accessed May 25, 2009.
[4] Remarks By President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu In Press Availability, May 18, 2009.  Accessed May 19, 2009.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Lake, Eli, The Washington Times, May 20, 2009. 
[7] Morrell, Geoff, Department of Defense News Briefing, May 19, 2009.  Accessed May 20, 2009.
[8] Leshem, Elie, “Baraq Expects ‘Serious Dialogue’ With US,” The Jerusalem Post Online, May 19, 2009.
[9] Remarks by President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu, May 18, 2009.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Solomon, Jay, “U.S., Allies Set October Target For Iran Progress,” Wall Street Journal, May 15, 2009.  Accessed May 21, 2009.
[13] “Netanyahu Presses Congress Over Threat Of Nuclear Iran,” CNN, May 19, 2009.  Accessed May 19, 2009.
[14] Clinton, Hillary R., Remarks before the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs, May 20, 2009.  Accessed May 21, 2009.
[15] “Iran Hails Successful Test Of New Medium-Range Missile,” Agence France Presse, March 20, 2009.  Accessed May 21, 2009.
[16] “World adapting to successful Iran: Ahmadinejad,”Press TV, May 20, 2009. Available at:
[17] “Obama will meet same fate as Gorbachev,” Press TV, May 19, 2009. Available at:
[18] Ibid.
[19] “Presidential advisor: US, Zionist regime losing power in region,” IRNA, May 19, 2009. Available at:
[20] “CIA chief: Israeli attack on Iran means ‘big trouble,’” WashingtonTV, May 20, 2009. Available at:
[21] “Iran says it ‘welcomes’ any US gasoline sanctions,” WashingtonTV, May 18, 2009. Available at:
[22] “Israel’s Netanyahu seeks US Congress support,” BBC News, May 20, 2009. Available at:
[23] “Israel: Def Min Barak Lauds Obama's 'Right Approach;' MKs Comment on US Meeting,” Ynetnews, May 19, 2009. (World News Connection).
[24] Elie Leshem, “Baraq Expects ‘Serious Dialogue’ With US,” The Jerusalem Post Online, May 19, 2009. (World News Connection).
[25] “US, Israel together in ‘dismantling Iran,’” PressTV, May 22, 2009.
[26] “Israel: Def Min Baraq Lauds Obama's 'Right Approach;' MKs Comment on US Meeting,” Ynetnews, May 19, 2009. (World News Connection).
[27] “Outgoing IAEA head discusses threat from nuclear proliferation by Iran, NKorea,” Der Spiegel, May 18, 2009. (Lexis-Nexis Academic).
[28] Ibid.
[29] “US, Israel waging new satanic war in region,” PressTV, May 20, 2009. Available at:
[30] “Ex-German president backs Obama’s outreach to Iran,” IRNA, May 22, 2009. Available at:
[31] “Clinton plays down more U.S. sanctions on Iran now,” Reuters, May 20, 2009. Available at:
[32] “US confirms Iran missile success, warns of arms race,” PressTV, May 20, 2009. Available at:
[33] “US screams bloody murder as Iran remains silent,” PressTV, May 22, 2009. Available at:
[34] Amy Tiebel, “US officials press Israeli leader on Mideast peace,” The News Tribune, May 19, 2009. Available at:
[35] Andrea Shalal-Esa, “Gates defends U.S. missile defense cuts,” Reuters, May 20, 2009. Available at:
[36] Amy Tiebel, “US officials press Israeli leader on Mideast peace,” The News Tribune, May 19, 2009. Available at:
[37] Steve Holland, “Israel’s leader faces U.S. pressure on settlements,” Reuters, May 19, 2009. Available at:
[38] “With US ties at risk, Israel makes no promises on Iran,” Press TV, May 20, 2009. Available at:
[39] “Clinton: Multilateral sanctions on Iran in order if talks fail,” Haaretz, May 20, 2009. Available at:
[40] Agence France Presse, May 20, 2009.  
[41] Ali Akbar Dareini, “Iran tests missile with range that can hit Israel,” The Bellingham Herald, May 20, 2009. Available at:
[42] “Iran missile test pinches nerve in Canada,” PressTV, May 22, 2009. Available at:
[43] Zahra Hosseinian and Fredrik Dahl. “Iran tests missile as election race starts,” Reuters, May 20, 2009.  Available at:
[44] “Iran nuclear bomb would be calamitous: U.S. Military,” Reuters, May 21, 2009. Available at:
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