Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, has discussed Iran’s nuclear ambitions with Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, and influential US politicians before wrapping up a visit to the US.
Tuesday’s meeting concluded what Netanyahu called “a very good visit” to Washington for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference.
“We’ve had a very good visit in Washington, first in our discussion with the president in the Oval Office… and now culminating in this remarkable display of solidarity here in the congress of the United States,” Netanyahu said.
“I go back to Israel feeling that we have great friends in Washington.”
The hour-long talks came a day after Netanyahu delivered a stern speech about Israel’s right to defend itself against the possible threat of a nuclear-armed Iran at a meeting of the pro-Israel lobby on Monday.
Addressing the AIPAC delegates after earlier holding talks with President Barack Obama, Netanyahu said “Israel will always reserve the right to defend itself”.
“We are determined to prevent Iran developing nuclear weapons,” he said.
“We leave all options on the table and containment is not an option. The Jewish state will not allow those who seek Israel’s destruction the means to achieve that goal. A nuclear-armed Iran must be stopped.”
After meeting Netanyahu on Tuesday, Republican John Boehner, speaker of the House of Representatives, said “the looming threat of a nuclear Iran cannot be ignored.
“Now is the time to stand together and we are here today to tell the prime minister that congress intends to do so”.
Later in the day, Obama addressed criticism that his policy on Iran had been too casual, saying the “bluster” coming from rival Republicans in this presidential election year was not helping solve the nuclear issue.
“This is not a game, and there is nothing casual about it,” Obama said on the same day that Catherine Ashton, EU foreign policy chief, sent an offer to restart diplomatic talks between the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany with Iran.
Iran denies that it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons and says its nuclear programme is for civilian purposes.
Netanyahu’s visit to Washington came amid speculation, in the press and in public statements by Israeli officials, that Israel is planning a strike against nuclear facilities in Iran.
In a statement issued prior to Monday’s talks with Netanyahu, Obama largely echoed points he made on Sunday night in his address to AIPAC.
Obama said the US “reserved all options” regarding Iran’s nuclear programme, but wanted more time to pursue diplomacy.
“I know that both the prime minister and I prefer to resolve this diplomatically,” he said. “We understand the costs of military action.”
Al Jazeera’s Patty Culhane, reporting from the AIPAC conference, called Netanyahu’s address “an impassioned speech”.
“It seemed at times he was actually mocking members of the Obama administration, saying that amazingly some people still don’t believe Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon,” she said.
“It’s important to point out that the US intelligence agencies have repeatedly said that there is absolutely no evidence that Iran has decided that it wants to build a nuclear weapon.”
Reporting from Tehran, Al Jazeera’s Dorsa Jabbari said: “[Iran’s] position will not change based on this speech. Israel has always been public enemy number one in this country and this kind of rhetoric about Iran only serves this establishment’s purpose.
“[Iran] believes this kind of talk will only strengthen their position and actually win over more people in the country in terms of aligning them together in standing united against one enemy.
“And this is the point President Obama made on Sunday as well – that there has been too much talk of war and it only serves the Iranian establishment when that happens.”
Al Jazeera’s Paul Brennan, reporting from Jerusalem, said that public opinion in Israel is currently against a preemptive strike on Iran. “Opinion polls say that 19 per cent of people support a pre-emptive strike, while 34 per cent of Israelis are completely opposed to a strike on Iran.”
“Netanyahu’s policy that he is pushing is his and his government’s policy, and public opinion is not completely behind him,” he said.