by Staff Writers
Jerusalem (AFP) July 8, 2010
US President Barack Obama said in an Israeli TV interview broadcast on Thursday it is highly unlikely the Jewish state would surprise Washington with an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities.
"It is unacceptable for Iran to posses nuclear weapons and we are going to do everything we can to prevent that happening," Obama told Israel's Channel 2 television in the interview taped on Wednesday.
"I think the relationship between the US and Israel is sufficiently strong that neither of us try to surprise each other," he said, when asked if he was concerned Israel could catch the US off guard with an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities.
"We try to coordinate on issues of mutual concern and that approach is one Prime Minister (Benjamin) Netanyahu is committed to," Obama said.
Israel, which has the Middle East's sole if undeclared nuclear arsenal, regards Iran as its principal threat after repeated predictions by the Islamic republic's hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of the Jewish state's demise.
Along with the West, it suspects Iran of trying to develop atomic weapons under the guise of a civilian nuclear programme, a claim Tehran denies.
Israel has backed US-led efforts to prevent Iran developing a nuclear weapons capability through sanctions, but has also refused to rule out military force.
In 1981, Israel bombed an Iraqi nuclear reactor and reportedly also attacked a suspected Syrian nuclear facility in 2007.
Obama said despite Iranian denials, "all indicators are they are pursuing nuclear weapons," and preventing this was a priority for him.
"The single most important threat to Israel, Iran and its potential possession of a nuclear weapon, has been my number one foreign policy priority in the last 18 months," the US president said.
"We will continue to keep the door open for a diplomatic resolution of this challenge," he said, adding that "I assure you I have not taken options off the table."
Iran insists its nuclear programme is aimed solely at power generation and medical research and says the international community should focus its attention on Israel, which, unlike Iran, is not a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Ahmadinejad said on Thursday that new sanctions recently slapped on his country by Western nations would not alter Tehran's nuclear programme.
No matter how many sanctions resolutions are approved, "there will be no minor change in our nuclear programme," he said through a translator after attending a summit in Nigeria.
"Those resolutions are only paper. What's going to shape our future is our determination."
Obama gave the interview, his first to an Israeli channel since taking office, during a visit to the United States by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which has been hailed as a fence-mending trip between the two leaders.
earlier related report
Speaking after meeting fellow Muslim leaders at a summit in Nigeria, the Iranian leader said no matter how many sanctions resolutions are approved, "there will be no minor change in our nuclear programme."
"Those resolutions are only paper," he said through a translator.
Ahmadinejad has been outspoken in his dismissal of the new sanctions, adopted by the UN Security Council and several Western governments, previously calling them a "used hanky which should be thrown in the dustbin."
But the head of Iran's atomic energy, Ali Akbar Salehi, acknowledged for the first time on Wednesday that the measures "may slow down" its nuclear drive.
"One can't say sanctions are ineffective," Iran's ISNA news agency quoted Salehi as telling a press conference.
Ahmadinejad did not respond directly when asked about Salehi's comments after the summit, saying simply that Iran had "tremendous and huge resources."
"Those who have regulated and designed the resolutions against the Islamic republic of Iran need us more than we need them," he said.
Fresh UN Security Council sanctions were imposed on Iran on June 9, and both the United States and the European Union later took additional measures against Tehran unilaterally.
Western governments suspect Iran's nuclear programme is a cover for a weapons drive, something Tehran has repeatedly denied, maintaining it is aimed solely at power generation and medical research.
Ahmadinejad was in Nigeria -- which holds the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council this month -- for Thursday's one-day summit of the Developing Eight (D-8) group in Abuja.
The Istanbul-based D-8 groups Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan and Turkey, with a total population of 930 million.
After arriving on Wednesday, Ahmadinejad called the United States a global dictator and lashed out at Israel.
Ahmadinejad's speech on Wednesday evening in the West African country, where Muslims make up an estimated half of the 150 million population, drew a rapturous welcome from the crowd, which chanted "Nigerians support Iran."
The aim of the Developing Eight (D8) summit was to improve trade among members, and it was unclear whether the new sanctions against Iran were addressed in the closed-door sessions.
It ended with a call for member nations to speed up progress on a plan to liberalise trade between them and for more cooperation on energy issues, according to the summit's final declaration.
Leaders at the summit had earlier lamented the fact that little progress has been achieved on boosting trade.
"The D8 has not been able to fully attain its objectives," said Malaysia's deputy prime minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.
A so-called preferential trade area, "which was supposed to be the blue-chip of our economic cooperation, had only been ratified by two member states... Malaysia and Iran," said Yassin.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who came to power in May after the death of his predecessor, Umaru Yar'Adua, took advantage of the talks to lobby for investment.
Despite its huge oil and gas resources, Nigeria is woefully short of electricity and fuel due to the poor condition of its refineries, which have been hampered by corruption.
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