Obama Confers With Netanyahu as Romney Faults Mideast Policy - Businessweek
President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are in “full agreement” on the goal of preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, the White House said as Republican candidate Mitt Romney renewed his attacks on the administration’s handling of the Middle East.
Obama had a 20-minute call with Netanyahu today, the president’s only publicly announced one-on-one discussion with a foreign leader this week, following weeks of tensions between the leaders over how aggressively to confront Iran’s nuclear development program.
It also had implications for U.S. domestic politics. Romney spoke by phone with Netanyahu within hours of Obama’s conversation. The sequence of calls and the debate about Iran comes 39 days before the U.S. presidential election.
Romney has sought to use signs of differences between Obama and Netanyahu over Iran to raise doubts with American Jewish voters about the president’s commitment to Israel and his ability to manage turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa. The Obama administration, in today’s statement, said the U.S. alliance with Israel is “unshakeable.”
“The prime minister welcomed President Obama’s commitment before the United Nations General Assembly to do what we must to achieve” the goal of preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, the White House statement said. ‘Red Line’
Netanyahu has been pushing the U.S. and western nations to set a “red line” at which point Iran’s nuclear development would warrant a military response. Obama, while urging more time for negotiations and for economic sanctions to pressure Iran, has said the U.S. won’t allow the Islamic Republic to build a nuclear weapon.
In his speech yesterday to the UN General Assembly, Netanyahu held up a cartoon-style drawing of a bomb as a prop to get international attention for his call for the U.S. to issue a more direct warning to Iran.
“By next spring, at most next summer, at current enrichment rates, they will have finished the medium enrichment and moved on to the final stage,” Netanyahu said. “From there it’s only a few months, possibly a few weeks, before they get enough enriched uranium for the first bomb.”
Obama and Netanyahu both attended the UN session in New York this week, though not at the same time. Israeli media reported earlier this month that the U.S. president rebuffed Netanyahu’s request for a meeting, which Obama aides denied. The reports were published on the same day Netanyahu told reporters in Jerusalem that nations that “refuse to put a red line before Iran don’t have the moral right to place a red light before Israel.” Romney Criticism
Romney has repeatedly criticized Obama for not meeting with Netanyahu while the prime minister is in the U.S. In an interview broadcast Sept. 23 on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” the Republican challenger said Obama’s decision not to meet with Netanyahu “a mistake and sends a message throughout the Middle East that somehow we distance ourselves from our friends.”
Romney again blasted Obama today for having referred in a television interview to recent anti-American protests and attacks in Muslim countries and the upheaval in Syria as “bumps in the road” to democratizing the region. The U.S. ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and three other Americans were killed during an assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. ‘Bump in Road’
“I don’t consider 20 or 30,000 people dying in Syria just a bump in the road, or a Muslim Brotherhood president in Egypt a bump in the road,” Romney said at the Valley Forge Military Academy and College in Wayne, Pennsylvania. “I don’t consider the killing of our diplomats in Libya as a bump in the road, and I sure as heck don’t consider Iran becoming nuclear a bump in the road.”
Romney is trying to undercut Obama’s support from Jewish voters as polls show him trailing the president nationally. Both campaigns have been increasing their focus on Florida, a state where Jewish residents may be an important voting bloc.
Vice President Joe Biden, campaigning today in Florida, which has 29 electoral votes, said Romney can’t win the general election if he loses there.
“We win Florida, this race is over,” the vice president said.
Foreign policy and national security remain areas of strength for Obama. By a margin of 49 percent to 38 percent, respondents to a Bloomberg National Poll conducted Sept. 21-24 said Obama would be better suited than Romney to cope with unforeseen events in the Middle East. Forty-nine percent endorse the Obama administration’s approach to Iran.
To contact the reporters on this story: Margaret Talev in Washington at email@example.com; Julie Hirschfeld Davis in Wayne, Pennsylvania, at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Komarow at email@example.com