JERUSALEM (AFP) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that international sanctions have so far made no impact on Iran’s nuclear programme and that a “strong and credible” military threat was needed.
“We have to be honest and say that all the sanctions and diplomacy so far have not set back the Iranian programme by one iota,” he said on meeting White House hopeful Mitt Romney.
“I believe that we need a strong and credible military threat, coupled with the sanctions, to have a chance to change that situation.”
His remarks came as the Haaretz newspaper ran a story saying that US National Security Adviser Tom Donilon had recently briefed Netanyahu on Washington’s contingency plans for a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Citing a “senior American official,” Haaretz said Donilon had held a three-hour dinner meeting with the Israeli premier a fortnight ago, during which he had shared details about US military capabilities for attacking underground Iranian bunkers.
It said Donilon’s Israeli counterpart, Yaakov Amidror, was present “for part of the time.”
But an Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, denied the report.
“We don’t comment on what is discussed in closed diplomatic meetings,” the official told AFP. “But the story is full of factual errors. “Nothing in the article is correct. “Donilon did not meet the prime minister for dinner, he did not meet him one-on-one, nor did Donilon present operational plans to attack Iran.”
Haaretz wrote: “Donilon sought to make clear that the United States is seriously preparing for the possibility that negotiations will reach a dead end and military action will become necessary.”
In recent weeks, several senior US officials have held talks in Jerusalem, among them US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Obama’s top counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan and Clinton’s deputy William Burns. And US defence chief Leon Panetta is due in Israel next week for top-level talks, with Iran likely to play a central role in his discussions.
White House hopeful Mitt Romney on Sunday held top-level talks in Israel about how to handle fears over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, on a visit aimed at burnishing his foreign policy credentials. “Like you, we are very concerned about the development of nuclear capabilities on the part of Iran and feel it is unacceptable for Iran to become a nuclear armed nation,” Romney told reporters on meeting President Shimon Peres.
“The threat it would pose to Israel, the region and the world is incomparable and unacceptable.” The Republican challenger, who will face off against President Barack Obama in November’s US election, flew in from Britain late on Saturday for a one-day visit expected to focus on Iran’s nuclear programme, which Israel and much of the West believes is a covert bid to develop atomic weapons.
“Iran and its effort to become a nuclear-capable nation (is one) which I take with great seriousness, and look forward to chatting with you about further actions that we can take to dissuade Iran from their nuclear folly,” Romney told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier on Sunday in remarks carried on Israeli public radio.
He also said the two could discuss “developments about the region” including in Syria and Egypt.
Netanyahu told him it was important to have “a strong and credible military threat” because sanctions and diplomacy “so far have not set back the Iranian programme by one iota.” “I think it’s important to do everything in our power to prevent the Ayatollahs from possessing that capability,” he said.
“And that’s why I believe that we need a strong and credible military threat, coupled with the sanctions, to have a chance to change that situation.”
Romney was also to meet Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad later on Sunday and give a statement on foreign policy.
Romney has consistently attacked what he says is Obama’s weak and misguided Middle East policy, saying in January that the Democratic incumbent “threw Israel under the bus,” by defining the 1967 borders as a starting point for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
He has also charged that Obama’s policy towards Iran is too weighted towards engagement with an Israeli enemy with suspected nuclear ambitions, and has vowed tougher sanctions if he is elected.
Obama made a show of support for Israel at the White House on Friday, signing a law reinforcing US security and military cooperation with Israel as representatives of the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC stood next to him in the Oval Office.
Israeli journalists were invited to attend the signing along with photographers and reporters accredited to the White House. Such signing ceremonies have been uncommon in the Obama presidency.
The law, which gives Israel preferential access to US arms and munitions, “underscores our unshakable commitment to Israel’s security,” Obama said.
Israel is widely believed to have the Middle East’s only, albeit undeclared, nuclear arsenal, which international experts believe contains between 100 and 300 nuclear warheads.
On Sunday, Israeli daily Haaretz reported that US National Security Adviser Tom Donilon had briefed Netanyahu on Washington’s contingency plans for a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Citing a senior US official, the paper said Donilon met Netanyahu for three hours over dinner in Jerusalem two weeks ago and shared with him details of US military capabilities for attacking Iranian bunkers.
“Donilon sought to make clear that the United States is seriously preparing for the possibility that negotiations will reach a dead end and military action will become necessary,” Haaretz wrote.
Israeli officials did not formally confirm or deny the report.
“We don’t comment on what is discussed in closed diplomatic meetings,” one official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
“But the story is full of factual errors.”