Thursday, February 23, 2012

Mixed Messages on Iran Spark Talk of U.S.-Israel Strategy

At Los Angeles Times, "U.S., Israel send mixed messages on Iran": U.S., Israel send mixed messages on Iran":
As the U.S. seeks to tamp down talk of an Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear sites, some analysts and officials see a campaign to wring concessions from Tehran.

The Obama administration is bluntly warning Israel about the danger of bombing Iran's nuclear facilities, but it is far from clear whether the allies are truly at odds over a core policy question or orchestrating an elaborate campaign to wring concessions from the Islamic Republic.

Both countries say that at least for now, tightening a web of economic sanctions around Iran's vital oil exports is the best way to pressure Tehran into serious negotiations about its nuclear program, which the U.S. and its allies suspect is aimed at mastering the know-how to build a bomb.

But Israel regards a nuclear-armed Iran as an existential threat, and in recent weeks officials have suggested they may attack its nuclear facilities before the program reaches a point of no return.

Early Wednesday, the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a statement that Iran denied a request for access to a site where the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency suspects explosives testing related to a nuclear weapon took place, news services reported. The statement was released after the IAEA team left on a return flight to Vienna. The unusual timing, shortly after midnight in Europe, reflected the urgency of the communique.

With Tom Donilon, the White House national security advisor, visiting Israel over the weekend and James R. Clapper, the top U.S. intelligence official, due in this week, some Israelis suggested that Washington doesn't appreciate the threat their nation faces and is undermining the chance of success. Public signs of strain in the relationship are beginning to emerge.

After meeting separately Tuesday in Israel with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Ambassador Daniel B. Shapiro, Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona told reporters that "there is clearly significant tension that now exists on how to approach this whole issue."
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