Obama, Netanyahu brace for fateful White House meeting on Iran
The main objective of both Obama and Netanyahu is to prevent any possibility of misunderstandings or tensions during their Monday meeting at the Oval Office and the statements to the press.
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Three hours after his speech at AIPAC, President Shimon Peres left the Blair House official guest residence and flew to San Francisco. In Silicon Valley, there are lighter topics waiting for him - Iran and Obama at AIPAC will be replaced by Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg.
For Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the situation is opposite. He spent the last three days in the Canadian capital Ottawa. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper will completely and automatically support anything that Netanyahu or Israel will say or do and won't ask Netanyahu hard questions. Also, Netanyahu had a relatively quiet weekend (aside from the Uzi Arad annoyance) during which he celebrated his wedding anniversary with his wife Sara.
On Sunday evening, when Netanyahu replaces Peres at the Blair House, he also will replace the mood. Netanyahu and his associates have been conveying discomfort in recent weeks about the conduct of the American government on the Iran issue. It is not clear if this is a tactic or if this is an actual feeling that Obama cannot be trusted on Iran.
The Netanyahu-Obama meeting on Monday at the White House will mostly be one-on-one. In recent days, there were intensive contacts between the offices of the two leaders to prepare for the meeting in the best manner possible. The talks involved the national security advisers from both sides Tom Donilon and Yaakov Amidror, the ambassadors Dan Shapiro and Michael Oren, Netanyahu's political adviser Ron Dermer, and Donilon's deputy denis McDonough.
The idea of issuing a joint statement at the end of the meeting was put aside in recent days. However, both sides' main objective remains to prevent any possibility of misunderstandings or tensions during the meeting, and moreover, during the statements to the press. Last May, tensions and lack of coordination on the Palestinian issue turned into a confrontation in front of the cameras, during which Netanyahu gave Obama an uncomfortable lesson on the history of the Jewish people.
The last thing the two sides want is to create is an impression of a crisis at the meeting's end. Both in the White House and in Netanyahu's office there is an understanding that only Iran stands to gain from such a scenario. If the images of May 2011 repeat themselves, the implications will be catastrophic.
A senior official in the U.S. administration who is involved in preparations for the meeting said he believes that the interview Obama gave to the Atlantic magazine - coupled with his AIPAC speech on Sunday - will succeed in easing the tensions between Jerusalem and Washington, and create an atmosphere of trust that will allow for the continuation of a cooperative effort against Iran. "Both sides talked too much in recent weeks," the official said. "It only caused damage."
It is likely that Netanyahu will use the remaining hours before the meeting for consultations with his closest aides. Perhaps Obama's aides will also arrive at the Blair House for final coordination efforts. Netanyahu was pleased with Obama's speech, but sources close to him said he is seeking a more detailed response. On one hand, Netanyahu will want to know what lies behind Obama's aggressive statements on the issue of military action against Iran; On the other hand, he will want to hear how the U.S. president intends to proceed on the diplomatic level.
The blog of Haaretz's diplomatic correspondent, taking a deeper look behind the scenes of Israeli politics and foreign policy.