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Middle east Americas

Netanyahu steps up Iran rhetoric amid US elections

Latest update : 2012-09-17

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stepped up pressure on the US over Iran's controversial nuclear programme on Sunday in a move that coincides with the final weeks of the country's heated presidential election.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stepped up his efforts to push the US into confrontation with Iran over its controversial nuclear programme, a move that coincides with Republican challenger Mitt Romney’s attempts to convince American voters that President Barack Obama is weak on foreign policy.

"I think it's important to delineate a red line for Iran", Netanyahu said (17/09).

Netanyahu spoke only days after US Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in an attack on the United States consulate in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi. The incident took place as widespread protests erupted in countries around the world last week against a US-made film, “Innocence of Muslims”, ridiculing the Prophet Muhammad.

In two separate interviews aired in the United States on Sunday morning by CNN and NBC, Netanyahu said little, if anything, new about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. More interesting, however, was Netanyahu’s decision to time his remarks during the final weeks of the heated US presidential campaign.

Political positioning

The message conformed seamlessly with Romney’s harsh rhetoric on Iran. Romney, like Obama, has said he would not allow Iran to add a nuclear weapon to its arsenal. The Republican nominee has been critical of Obama for not acting quickly or forcefully enough, but has not offered specifics on how he would handle the situation differently. Neither Obama nor Romney have called for US military intervention in the near future.

Obama insists that time remains for tough sanctions imposed by the US and its allies to force a diplomatic solution. Netanyahu argues time is running out and that Washington must quickly draw “red lines” past which Iran cannot move in its nuclear programme without engendering an American military attack.

Netanyahu has threatened that Israel would attack Iran alone if it determines Tehran is reaching a point beyond which the Israeli military could do little to stop the march towards building a nuclear weapon.

The United States, its Western allies and Israel all accuse Iran of using what it says is a nuclear programme designed only for electricity generation and medical research as cover to build a weapon.

The savvy Netanyahu, who lived many years in the United States and once worked at the same financial firm as Romney, denied that he was meddling in the US presidential election. He and Obama have a notoriously cool relationship, and earlier this summer he doted Romney with the trappings of a visiting head of state when the candidate made a gaffe-filled foreign tour to build up his foreign policy credentials.

As Muslim demonstrators threaten US diplomatic missions throughout the Islamic world, Netanyahu’s remarks on NBC sought to draw on the violence to bolster his argument.

“Iran, with nuclear weapons, would mean that the kind of fanaticism that you see storming your embassies would have a nuclear weapon. Don’t let these fanatics have nuclear weapons,” he said.

Netanyahu’s comments came on the heels of Romney’s comments last week that criticised Obama’s approach to foreign policy in the Islamic world, saying it was largely based on apologies for past American actions, especially in Arab countries.

Romney’s assertions came as demonstrations against “Innocence of Muslims” first kicked off outside of US diplomatic buildings in countries like Egypt and Libya, where Stevens was eventually killed during an attack on the consulate in Benghazi, before spreading worldwide.

Romney came under heavy political fire for his comments, which many considered to be inappropriate and poorly timed. He was blasted by Democrats and some Republicans for issuing statements before he knew the facts and for breaking with the US tradition of bipartisanship in times of foreign crises.

Romney and his surrogates also have been deeply critical of Obama’s handling of US-Israeli relations, with some Republican surrogates saying the administration has “thrown Israel under the bus.”

‘I’m not going to be drawn into the American election,’ Netanyahu says

Asked if he viewed Romney as the candidate who would keep Israel safer, Netanyahu has denied trying to interfere with the US elections.

“God, I’m not going to be drawn into the American election. And what’s guiding my statements is not the American political calendar, but the Iranian nuclear calendar,” he said during the interview with NBC.

But his appearance on widely viewed and important US television news programmes at the time he chose, whether knowingly or not, could affect the outcome of the race.

While the struggling US economy is the top issue among American voters, much of Romney’s mostly conservative base, especially evangelical Christians, are determined to tie the United States even more closely to the needs of Israel. Netanyahu contends Iran poses an existential threat and would use a nuclear weapon to make good on its rhetorical threats to wipe Israel off the map.

While polls show Obama gaining ground on Romney’s standing among voters as the best candidate to handle the economy, the president holds a significant lead as the best man to run US foreign policy.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2012-09-17

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