Biden said the door to diplomacy is open for Iran "but the price to walk through that door - acting rationally."[AFP] 

Benyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, has told US Vice President Joe Biden that only a credible military threat can deter Iran from building a nuclear weapon, Israeli political sources said.

The comments, made on Sunday, signal growing Israeli impatience with diplomacy, the sources said.

Netanyahu, beginning a five-day US visit, argued that economic sanctions have failed to persuade Iran to stop its nuclear programme.

However, Biden said after the talks that the sanctions "have a bite" and were having a "measurable impact," though he expressed frustration that Tehran had brushed aside overtures by President Barack Obama's administration.

"The only way to ensure that Iran will not go nuclear is to create a credible threat of military action against it if it doesn't cease its race for a nuclear weapon," one of the sources quoted Netanyahu as telling Biden.

In remarks to the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly in New Orleans, Biden said, "We continue to seek a peaceful resolution and to hope Iranian leaders will reconsider their current destructive and debilitating course," he said.  "But let me be very clear about this: We are also absolutely committed to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons."

The West believes that Iran aims to use its uranium enrichment programme to build atomic weapons, and both Israel and the United States have said all options are on the table in dealing with its nuclear ambitions.

But Netanyahu, who has in the past called for "crippling sanctions" against Iran, had made clear that Israel wanted to see if tough economic sanctions could eliminate what it described as a threat against its existence.

Tehran denies it is out to produce nuclear arms.

Diversion from settlements

The tough talk from the Israelis swiftly raised speculation in Israeli media that Netanyahu, who has rebuffed US and international calls to reimpose a freeze on building in West Bank settlements, was trying to shift the focus of his visit away from stalemate.

In addition to Iran, Netanyahu also discussed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks with Biden. 

The talks were suspended in a dispute over building settlements in the West Bank after a 10-month moratorium on new buildings expired in September. 

A source told Reuters that a fuller discussion on Israeli-Palestinian issues will await Netanyahu's scheduled meeting in New York on Thursday with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Diplomats said Washington had offered Israel a package of incentives, including ideas on security, to persuade Netanyahu to resume a partial settlement freeze for two months.

The proposals included US backing for Netanyahu's demand for an Israeli military presence along the Jordan river, the likely eastern border of a future Palestinian state.

But Israeli leaders have balked at what the political sources said was the package's vague time frame for the troop deployment, which Palestinians oppose.

Source: Agencies