U.S.: Letting Israel act freely on Iran isn't policy change
Vice President tells ABC: U.S. won't stop Israeli strike on Iran, regardless of what Obama does.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said on Sunday that the Obama administration would not stand in Israel's way should the latter chooses to take military action to eliminate Iran's nuclear threat.
White House officials said that the vice president's remarks demonstrated only U.S. allowance of Israeli sovereignty, and not a change in policy on the part of the Obama administration.
Biden told ABC reporter George Stephanopoulos that Israel has the right to determine its own course of action with regard to the Iranian nuclear threat, regardless of what the Obama administration chooses to do, .
When asked whether the Obama administration would restrain Israeli military action against Iran, Biden responded:
"Israel can determine for itself - it's a sovereign nation - what's in their interest and what they decide to do relative to Iran and anyone else."
Stephanaopoulos posed the question three times, and each time Biden repeated that Israel was free to choose its actions. "If the Netanyahu government decides to take a course of action different than the one being pursued now, that is their sovereign right to do that. That is not our choice."
White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said Biden's remarks did not signaling any change of approach on Iran or Israel.
"The vice president refused to engage hypotheticals, and he made clear that our policy has not changed," Vietor said. "Our friends and allies, including Israel, know that the president believes that now is the time to explore direct diplomatic options."
During the interview, Biden hinted that President Barack Obama was looking to take a harder line toward Iran over the latter's contentious nuclear program.
He said that Obama's offer for dialogue with Tehran remained on the table, but rejected the notion that the U.S. would make concessions for such negotiation to take place.
"The ball's in their court," Biden said. "If they choose to meet with the P-5 under the conditions the P-5 has laid out, it means they begin to change course. And it means that the protestors probably had some impact on the behavior of an administration that they don't like at all."
Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Sunday, when asked about Biden's comments, that the U.S. position on Iran and a military strike involves a political decision.
"I have been, for some time, concerned about any strike on Iran. I worry about it being very destabilizing, not just in and of itself but unintended consequences of a strike like that," Mullen said on CBS' Face the Nation.
"At the same time, I'm one that thinks Iran should not have nuclear weapons. I think that is very destabilizing," he said.