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Obama, Netanyahu Issue Warnings to Iran and Assad

President Obama (left) and Israeli PM Netanyahu at news conference in Jerusalem, March 20, 2013

President Obama (left) and Israeli PM Netanyahu at news conference in Jerusalem, March 20, 2013

U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu say they are united in their determination to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Iran and Syria were major topics of conversation on Obama's first day in Israel, as he began a four-day Middle East trip.

At a joint news conference, both leaders said the United States and Israel agree that a nuclear-armed Iran would be a threat to Israel, the region and the world.

Obama said there is "very little daylight" (very little difference) between U.S. and Israeli government assessments on Iran's nuclear development. He said a diplomatic solution is the preferable and longer lasting outcome, but added that he respects Israel's right to act on its own as the U.S. keeps all options open.

"The United States will continue to consult closely with Israel on next steps and I will repeat, all options are on the table, and we will do what is necessary to prevent Iran from getting the world's worst weapons," said President Obama.

Obama said Iran's past behavior indicates that the international community "can't even trust, much less verify" Tehran’s pledges. But he said the world needs to continue "testing" whether the issue can be resolved diplomatically.

Netanyahu said he is "absolutely convinced" that Obama is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and he believes Obama fully understands Israel's position.

"The United States is committed to deal with it, Israel is committed to deal with it," said Netanyahu. "We have different vulnerabilities obviously and different capabilities, we take that into account. But what we do maintain, and I think the president is the first to do so, is that Israel has a right to independently defend against any threat including the Iranian threat."

Netanyahu said if Iran arrives at an "immunity zone" in its uranium enrichment process, "whatever time is left is not a lot of time" for action. Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

Talks also covered the bloody civil war in Syria and the use or transfer of chemical weapons to terrorist groups. Obama said this would be a "game changer," although he said the U.S. and its partners are working to learn the facts.

"When you start seeing weapons that can cause potential devastation, and mass casualties, and you let that genie out of the bottle, then you are looking potentially at even more horrific scenes than we have already seen in Syria, and the international community has to act on that additional information," said Obama.

President Obama and Israeli leaders say they are fully committed to reviving stalled Israel-Palestinian peace negotiations for a two-state solution.

Obama said his goal is to ensure that the United States remains a positive force in creating opportunities for peace.

Netanyahu spoke of turning a page in Israel's relations with Palestinians.

"Let us sit down at the negotiating table," he said. "Let us put aside all preconditions. Let us work together to achieve the historic compromise that will end our conflict once and for all."

President Obama meets Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas Thursday in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank.

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