President Obama: we have to try diplomacy

US President Barack Obama made an effort last weekend to reduce the tensions between his administration and the Israeli government over the interim agreement signed three weeks ago with Iran.

The president assured his listeners at the annual Saban Forum that his differences with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were only “tactical” and that a future comprehensive agreement will not allow Iran to pursue a military nuclear programme.

Mr Obama, who was interviewed on stage by US-Israeli businessman Haim Saban, assured his listeners that he had not ruled out a military option against Iran, but said that “even as I don’t take any options off the table, what we do have to test is the possibility that we can resolve this issue diplomatically”.

He said that in the agreement signed in Geneva “for the first time in over a decade, we have halted advances in the Iranian nuclear programme” at the price of “maximum $7 billion out of the over $100 billion of revenue of theirs that is frozen as a consequence of our sanctions”.

Regarding his differences with Mr Netanyahu, who has strenuously criticised the agreement, Mr Obama said that he has “different tactical perspectives” and that the US and Israel share the same strategy of assuring Iran does not achieve nuclear weapons capability.

Mr Obama repeatedly emphasised that if the Iranians do not give the assurances required or fulfill its commitments in the interim deal, the US would return to sanctions and even consider using the military option.

Mr Netanyahu who addressed the forum on Monday also adopted a conciliatory tone, saying that the US and Israel “can have different perspectives,” but that on most matters “we see eye to eye.” He complimented Mr Obama under whose watch he said “defence, security and intelligence co-operation between the US and Israel… has reached new heights.”

Meanwhile, in unofficial briefings, Israeli officials have been claiming that the actual value of the sanctions relief that the Iranian government is getting is at least three times as high as the sum claimed by the Obama administration. According to Israeli security experts and diplomats, while the agreement allows for sanctions relief and the unfreezing of assets at around $7bn, the boost to the Iranian economy is worth at least $20bn.

Last updated: 1:38pm, December 12 2013