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Netanyahu tells Obama: No Israeli decision on Iran attack

Tuesday, March 6, 2012
(Reuters) - Benjamin Netanyahu assured President Barack Obama on Monday that Israel has not made any decision on attacking Iran's nuclear sites, sources close to the talks said, but the Israeli prime minister gave no sign of backing away from possible military action.

With Obama appealing for more time to allow international sanctions to work against Tehran, the two men agreed to keep up their coordination on the issue, but differences remained on how to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

Even as the leaders sought to project solidarity in their White House meeting, the most pointed reminder that Israel might end up acting on its own was Netanyahu's insistence that the Jewish state must be the "master of its fate."

Behind closed doors, Netanyahu confirmed to Obama that Israel has yet to decide whether to hit Iran's nuclear sites, though it retains the right to use military action, the sources close to the meeting said.

But there was no immediate sign that Obama's sharpened rhetoric against Tehran and his plea for Israeli restraint had caused Netanyahu to reconsider what Washington fears could be a rush to attack Iran's nuclear facilities.

And the sources said Obama - who has publicly backed Israel's right to self-defense - made no such request to right-wing Israeli leader, with whom he has had a sometimes strained relationship.

"The pressure (on Iran) is growing but time is growing short," Netanyahu was quoted as telling Obama during what was seen as the most consequential meeting of U.S. and Israeli leaders in years.

Later, addressing the influential pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, Netanyahu said: "None of us can afford to wait much longer. As prime minister of Israel, I will never let my people live in the shadow of annihilation."

At the podium, he held up a copy of a 1944 letter from the U.S. War Department to world Jewish leaders turning down their request to bomb the Nazi death camp of Auschwitz.

Drawing a parallel with arguments against attacking Iran, Netanyahu said the War Department explained that such an operation at Auschwitz could provoke "even more vindictive action by the Germans".

"Think about that, even more vindictive action than the Holocaust," Netanyahu said.

Obama, facing election-year pressure from Israel's U.S. supporters and Republican presidential contenders, sought to reassure Netanyahu the United States was keeping its own military option open as a last resort and "has Israel's back."

But he also urged Israel to allow international sanctions and diplomacy to work to thwart Iran's nuclear ambitions.

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