WASHINGTON, D.C. - On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed President Barack Obama's speech at the AIPAC conference here, saying that he appreciated Obama's support of Israel's right to defend itself on its own.
"We will do what it takes to preserve Israel's qualitative military edge - because Israel must always have the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat," Obama told the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Netanyahu also cited the U.S. president's statement to the pro-Israel lobby that Obama "will take no options off the table" - explicitly including the military option - in the effort to keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
"I appreciate all of these statements and expect to discuss them tomorrow with President Obama," Netanyahu said shortly before a meeting with Jewish leaders in the Canadian capital of Ottowa.
Netanyahu will be meeting with Obama in the White House Monday.
Obama met on the sidelines of the conference for 35 minutes with President Shimon Peres, who also spoke there. The two discussed Iran and the Palestinians, after which Peres updated Netanyahu by phone.
"It was an excellent meeting with President Obama," Peres said. "He reinforced the things he said in his speech and went into more details. I left with the feeling that he is determined to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and he is very serious. Obama told me that Israel's security is an American national security interest. I didn't find him to be hesitating in the least. He is sharp and clear and is not playing politics. I am sure that [Netanyahu] will be received very warmly in the White House."
Obama said in his speech that a nuclear Iran would run "counter to the national security interests" of the United States as well as Israel, and that he would not hesitate to use force to defend American interests.
"Iran's leaders should know that I do not have a policy of containment," Obama said. "I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And as I've made clear time and again during the course of my presidency, I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests."
"We all prefer to resolve this issue diplomatically," Obama said. "Having said that, Iran's leaders should have no doubt about the resolve of the United States, just as they should not doubt Israel's sovereign right to make its own decisions about what is required to meet its security needs."
But Obama criticized recent public speculation about the possibility of military action against Iran.
"Already, there is too much loose talk of war," Obama said. "Over the last few weeks, such talk has only benefited the Iranian government, by driving up the price of oil, which they depend upon to fund their nuclear program. ... Now is not the time for bluster."
On the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Obama called for the continued pursuit of a two-state solution.
"I make no apologies for pursuing peace. Israel's own leaders understand the necessity of peace," Obama said. "Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister [Ehud] Barak, and President Peres - each of them have called for two states, a secure Israel that lives side by side with an independent Palestinian state."
"I believe that peace is profoundly in Israel's security interest," he said.
Obama staunchly defended his administration's record on Israel, citing strong security and diplomatic assistance.
"So there should not be a shred of doubt by now," he said. "When the chips are down, I have Israel's back."
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