Israel was left fuming on Monday after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the U.S. was "not setting deadlines" for Iran and still considered negotiations to be "by far the best approach" to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
"Hillary Clinton is speeding up the Iranian centrifuges with her erroneous public comments,” senior diplomatic sources in Jerusalem said. “Without a clear red line, Iran will not halt its race for nuclear weapons." The source added that "not only do Clinton's comments not deter Iran, they actually appease it."
In an interview with Canadian television on Sunday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the U.S. and Israel were discussing the need for red lines to halt Iran's nuclear program. He also said, "I don't think that they [the Iranians] see a clear red line, and I think the sooner we establish one, the greater the chances that we won't need other types of action."
But in Washington on Monday, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland echoed Clinton's comments, telling reporters, "It is not useful to be ... setting deadlines one way or another," or to outline "red lines" for how far the U.S. could allow Iran's nuclear program to advance.
She repeated that U.S. President Barack Obama had stated unequivocally that the U.S. will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon, and that U.S. support for Israel's security was unwavering. But she said she would not speak about ongoing discussions between the U.S. and Israel, calling such talk "not helpful for the diplomacy."
The Associated Press reported on Tuesday that the U.N. atomic agency has new intelligence that Iran has advanced its work on calculating the destructive power of a nuclear warhead, a step toward building such a weapon.
The diplomats say the information — from the U.S., Israel and at least one other country — alleges the research was done within the past three years.
The information comes from six diplomats who spoke to AP on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss intelligence.
White House spokesman Jay Carney on Monday also dodged questions on whether Obama was ready to offer new red-line assurances to Israel.
"The line is the president is committed to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and he will use every tool in the arsenal of American power to achieve that goal," he told reporters.
Asked whether that meant the U.S. would act only if Iran began building a bomb, Carney said: "It is not fruitful as part of this process to engage in that kind of specificity."
"We believe that there remains time and space for that effort to bear fruit, an effort that is focused on punitive sanctions to isolate and pressure Iran, and on diplomacy to bring about a change in behavior from Iran,” Carney said.
“But we’ve also made clear that the window of opportunity for reaching a solution by that means will not remain open indefinitely, and that the president retains all options on the table in the pursuit of his commitment to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
"Ultimately, if pressure on Iran, sanctions on Iran, diplomatic isolation on Iran produces a change in Iranian behavior, that is the best way to ensure that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon."
The U.S. firmly believes that sanctions are taking a toll on Iran, and want Israel to give them more time to work. Street traders in Iran said Monday the country's currency had struck a new record low against the U.S. dollar, the second consecutive day it has fallen sharply. They say the rial dropped some 5 percent, with 25,650 rials now needed to purchase one dollar. A day earlier it fell nearly 7 percent. The current official rate is 12,260 rials to the dollar, used only for special purposes such as importing food and medicines.
The latest hiccup in U.S.-Israel relations comes just weeks before Netanyahu is scheduled to travel to the New York to address the U.N. General Assembly about Iran. A meeting with Obama, who is deep in his re-election campaign and due to speak to the forum two days before Netanyahu arrives, has not been finalized, an Israeli official told Reuters. There is speculation that Obama may prefer to avoid seeing Netanyahu as a cold, hostile meeting could adversely affect him in the November elections.
Carney did not say whether a meeting had been scheduled for the two, but stressed that there is "no daylight between the United States and Israel when it comes to what we perceive to be happening in Iran with regards to its program or when it comes to the commitment to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon."
Meanwhile, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Monday that Israel's decision makers "see it as part of our responsibilities to make sure that if we can avoid a war, we will, and if we have to go to war, it will only be after all other options have been exhausted."
Speaking at a special event to mark the new Jewish year at the Tel Nof air force base in the center of the country, he said, "But we do not live in western Europe or North America. We have gone through upheavals in the last year that have created some of the most difficult challenges we have ever faced, and this means we have to be ready for action."