May 19, 2013
Obama, Netanyahu seek to get past Iran differences
US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented a show of unity on Friday on preventing a nuclear-armed Iran, seeking to tone down the acrimony between the two leaders that has become an issue in the final stretch of the US presidential race.
Obama, widely seen as having snubbed Netanyahu by not meeting face to face with him during his US visit, spoke instead by phone to the Israeli prime minister amid signs of movement toward a truce in their war of words over how to confront Tehran.
Netanyahu used his UN speech a day earlier to keep pressure on Washington to set a "red line" for Tehran, something Obama has refused to do. But in a softening of his approach, the hawkish Israeli premier signaled that no attack on Iran was imminent before the November 6 US presidential election.
With an eye to the close presidential contest, Netanyahu also fielded a call during his New York visit from Obama's Republican rival, Mitt Romney, who has accused the president of being too hard on a close ally and not tough enough on Iran.
Romney has sought to use Obama's differences with Netanyahu to raise doubts with Jewish-American voters about Obama's commitment to Israel's security.
Obama's aides believe, however, that he has played his cards right with Netanyahu, with whom the president has had a notoriously testy relationship.
Netanyahu's strident complaints about US policy on Iran in mid-September plunged US-Israeli relations into crisis, but also spurred a backlash at home and in the US media for seeming to meddle in American politics.
In recent days, the Israelis have sought to dial down the rhetoric, culminating in Netanyahu's speech to the General Assembly, which was seen as sending a message that Israel would not blindside Washington with a unilateral attack on Iran any time soon.
"The two leaders underscored that they are in full agreement on the shared goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon," the White House said in a summary of their 20-minute phone conversation.
The White House said the two agreed to continue their cooperation, but it stopped short of saying Obama had given any ground on his resistance to issuing an ultimatum to Tehran, as Netanyahu has repeatedly demanded.
"I had a very good conversation with President Obama," Netanyahu told Israel television. "Our teams are talking."
An Obama aide went further, saying, "The temperature is lower than it had been."