Tony Karon writes: President Barack Obama, speaking Saturday in Turkey on the Iran nuclear standoff, reiterated his belief that “there is a window of time to solve this diplomatically, but that window is closing.” That may be a rhetorical device aimed at turning up the heat on the Iranians and on other interlocutors who might persuade them to be more forthcoming at next month’s nuclear talks with the major powers, but it also reflects the pressure created by Israel’s pounding of the war drum. It’s not Obama’s own hand, after all, that’s “closing” the diplomatic window of opportunity: The President himself made clear just three weeks ago that his own red line for taking military action would be if that became necessary to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. But he made clear, at the same time, that Iran is not currently building nuclear weapons, nor has it taken a decision to do so. The “closing window” to which he refers may be a reflection of the fact that the Israelis insist they take a darker view, and work off a shorter timetable.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatullah Ali Khamenei recently reiterated that the regime in Tehran regards the construction and use of nuclear weapons as a “sin against Islam” — in what appeared to be a public signal that Iran has no intention of crossing Obama’s red line. Iran analyst Vali Nasr also read that as a rebuke to those within the corridors of power in Tehran who argue that Iran should build nuclear weapons in the face of a mounting threat of foreign intervention. Khamenei also welcomed Obama’s emphasis on dialogue.
But Netanyahu sets little store by Iran’s declared intentions, seeing the steady progress of its nuclear program as a burgeoning threat, and drawing its own red line at Iran having the capacity to build a nuclear weapon (arguably it already has that capacity). Netanyahu insisted during his recent Washington visit that if diplomacy and sanctions don’t produce the results Israel demands, it will take matters into its own hands by launching military strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities, acting on its own timetable. President Obama, trying to tamp down the war talk, has questioned the value of military strikes in stopping Iran from building nuclear weapons, noting in his speech to the Israel lobbying organization AIPAC three weeks ago that “the only way to truly solve this problem is for the Iranian government to make a decision to forsake nuclear weapons. That’s what history tells us.”