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Middle East

US will not stand back and allow Iran to build nuclear weapon, says Barack Obama


Iran is at least a year away from successfully developing a nuclear weapon, according to Barack Obama who last night told Israeli television that the US would not stand back and allow Tehran to acquire such a weapon.

Speaking just days before his first state visit to Israel as president, Mr Obama said he had always been clear - that Washington will not allow Iran to become a nuclear power.

“I have been crystal clear about my position on Iran possessing a nuclear weapon. That is a red line for us. It is not only something that would be dangerous for Israel. It would be dangerous for the world,” Mr Obama told Israel’s Channel 2 News.

“...I've also said there is a window, not an infinite period time, but a window of time - where we can resolve this diplomatically.”

Mr Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, differ on Iran’s ambitions with the Americans yet to be convinced that Tehran actually wants to develop a nuclear weapon. The Iranians deny any plans to make a bomb and that its nuclear programme is designed for peaceful means.

The issue is just one that has the potential to antagonise the two leaders during Mr Obama’s three-day visit next week. Mr Obama appeared to try and smooth the historically icy relations between himself and Mr Netanyahu during the interview, referring to the Israeli prime minister by his nickname, ‘Bibi’, no fewer than 10 times during the interview.

Officials on both sides claim that the gulf between the two men over the Iranian nuclear issue is narrowing. Israelis claim that Mr Obama is shifting towards their view that diplomatic efforts, particular sanctions imposed on Tehran, are likely to fail. However, the two sides are still apart on the likely response. The Israelis want the Americans to lead any military action, while Washington is extremely reluctant to commit to yet another military adventure in the region.

Mr Obama arrives in Israel on Wednesday and will visit Jerusalem and Bethlehem, in the occupied West Bank. It is still unclear whether he will visit the Palestinian Authority’s administrative capital, Ramallah, before he leaves next Friday.

As part of the wide ranging Channel 2 interview, Mr Obama also said that he wished he could visit the coastal city of Tel Aviv in disguise. “Sometimes I have this fantasy that I can put on a disguise, wear a fake moustache and I can wander through Tel Aviv and go to a bar and have a conversation,” he said.

“I’d love to sit at a cafe and just hang out. The last time I was there as a senator, I still had the option of wandering through the Old City of Jerusalem. That option becomes much trickier once you’re actually president. You can’t just slip out and interact with people without having a bunch of guys with machine guns with you.”