Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu began a state visit to Canada today by diminishing diplomatic solutions to Iran’s pursuit of nuclear power.
Speaking with reporters after meeting privately with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Netanyahu said a nuclear Iran threatens global stability.
“Right now, Iran is feeling the pressure from the economic sanctions, and it could try to evade that pressure by entering talks,” Netanyahu said, The Associated Press reported. “The international community should not fall into this trap. I think the demands on Iran should be clear: Dismantle the underground nuclear facility in Qom, stop enrichment inside Iran and get all the enriched material out of Iran. And when I say all the material, I mean all the material.”
The strong words come ahead of Netanyahu’s meeting with President Obama beginning Monday in Washington. They also appear to contradict the diplomatic path favored by the White House.
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Speaking to The Atlantic, Obama reaffirmed his commitment to peaceful solutions, and suggested Iran could play the “victim” if attacked and that economic sanctions are crippling the country.
“The Israeli government recognizes that, as president of the United States, I don't bluff,” Obama said in an interview published today. “I also don’t, as a matter of sound policy, go around advertising exactly what our intentions are. But I think both the Iranian and the Israeli governments recognize that when the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say.”
Caught in the middle was Harper, who faced a choice today: he could endorse military action or urge the Israeli leader to be patient.
The Conservative Party of Canada leader tried to dance the line between the two as Netanyahu’s three-day state visit began.
Harper has made his support of Israel very clear in the past, calling Iran “fanatically religious,” but he softened the rhetoric today.
“It is absolutely correct that we have been very clear about the dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran, about its intentions and capabilities,” Harper said, The Canadian Press reported. “That remains a serious concern of this country, and I think I've expressed those views very clearly.
“In terms of hypothetical situations, I think as the prime minister is aware, Canada's position is very clear: we of course recognize the right of Israel to defend itself as a sovereign state, as a Jewish state. That said, we want to see a peaceful resolution of this issue. And we want to see every action taken to get a peaceful resolution of the situation.”
Harper and Netanyahu started their day posing for photographers at Parliament Hill. It was a jovial beginning to what’s expected to be an arduous trip for the Israeli PM, who may encounter a much cooler reception in Washington – at least figuratively.
He joked about the differences between Ottawa and Jerusalem to before the meetings began.
“There are some dissimilarities. We share common interests and common values but we have a few snowflakes in Jerusalem today, you have metres of them," Netanyahu said, The Globe and Mail reported. "We have a slightly smaller country, one of the smallest countries in the world, you have one of the largest and, of course, you have a better neighbourhood. More stable, more friendly.”
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