In wide-ranging talks at the White House, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama discussed what both leaders say is the threat posed by Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons. Mr. Netanyahu says Iran's nuclear program has been de-legitimized by new U.N. Security Council sanctions, while President Obama underscored the U.S. commitment to Israel's security.
Although a main focus of the Oval Office meeting was Israel-Palestinian peace efforts, global steps to pressure Iran to change the course of its nuclear program were also high on the agenda.
President Obama referred to the U.N. sanctions as the toughest ever directed at an Iranian government, and he cited the new unilateral U.S. sanctions he signed into law targeting Iran's refined petroleum needs and energy sector.
Mr. Obama said he hopes these and similar actions expected in coming months will persuade Iranian leaders to change direction.
"Other countries are following suit, and so we continue to put pressure on Iran to meet its international obligations and to cease the kinds of provocative behavior that has made it a threat to its neighbors and the international community," said President Obama.
Describing the prospect of an Iranian nuclear weapon as the greatest new threat on the horizon, Mr. Netanyahu urged other nations to adopt tough sanctions aimed at Iran's energy sector.
The Israeli leader responded this way when asked by a reporter whether the new U.N. sanctions will stop Iran's nuclear ambitions:
"The latest sanctions adopted by the U.N. create illegitimacy, or create de-legitimization, for Iran's nuclear program, and that is important," said Prime Minister Netanyahu. "I think the sanctions the president signed the other day actually have teeth, they bite. The question is how much do you need to bite is something I cannot answer now. But if other nations adopted similar sanctions that would increase the effect."
In addition to addressing the Iranian nuclear issue, the White House talks brought a renewed, strong statement of U.S. support for Israel's security requirements.
President Obama said he and Prime Minister Netanyahu discussed what he called issues arising out of an international conference earlier this year to review the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
Addressing reporters in the Oval office, Mr. Obama stated that he had reassured Prime Minister Netanyahu that there has been no change in U.S. policy, adding that the United States remains committed to Israel's security.
"Given its size, its history, the region it is in and the threats that are leveled against it, Israel has unique security requirements, it's got to be able to respond to threats or any combination of threats in the region," said President Obama. "And that is why we remain unwavering in our commitment to Israel's security, and the U.S. will never ask Israel to take any steps that would undermine their security interests."
Iran maintains that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes and rejects suggestions that its uranium enrichment is to produce fuel for a nuclear weapon.
The remarks by President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu came as Iran, in a letter to the European Union, said it would be prepared to resume talks on its nuclear program in September.
But the letter reiterated conditions set by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, including a requirement that participating countries not take a hostile or confrontational tone in talks, and that they state whether they oppose Israel's suspected nuclear arsenal.
The U.S. State Department said Tuesday that Washington is willing to meet with Iran, if it is "serious" about talking with Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China as well as the United States.