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Can Obama-Netanyahu rift over Iran be put on hold for the election?

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But it is not so much the IAEA findings, which come as no surprise to Netanyahu, as the approaching US election that has spurred the Israeli leader to ramp up pressure on Obama to commit to action on Iran, some Israel experts say. Netanyahu believes Israel’s leverage with the US is highest now, with Obama in a tight race with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, while he sees that leverage decreasing once the election is over, they say.

The issue of “red lines” encapsulates the friction between the two governments over how to address Iran’s advancing nuclear program, which a number of Western countries believe is aimed at delivering a nuclear weapon, but which the Iranian government says is intended for purely peaceful purposes.

The Obama administration believes it has more time – at least a year – to try to pressure Iran into verifiably limiting its uranium enrichment program before it could cross a nuclear point of no return. The Israeli government says the current dual approach of toughened economic sanctions and big-power diplomacy is not working, and that only the setting of clear “red lines” by the US on specifics – like how much stockpiled enriched uranium would trigger a US military attack – will cause the Iranians to take notice and modify their behavior.

Another concern for Netanyahu is that the further Iran advances, the less capable the Israeli military alone will be at inflicting serious setbacks on its nuclear program.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton appeared to offer the administration’s position on “red lines” last week when she said the US was “not setting deadlines” for the sanctions and diplomatic efforts by the US and five other world powers to resolve the crisis with Iran.

The White House said in a statement after Tuesday night’s phone call that the two leaders “reaffirmed that they are united in their determination to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and agreed to continue their close consultations going forward.”

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