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Israel-US ties strong despite Iran split: Lieberman

Israeli FM Avigdor Lieberman assures 'firm relationship' with Washington despite disagreements over how to deal with Iran's nuclear programme

AFP , Thursday 13 Sep 2012
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman gives a speech at the Foreign Minister office in Jerusalem, Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012. (Photo: AP)
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Israel's ties with the United States remain strong despite differences with Washington over how to deal with Iran's nuclear programme, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Thursday.

Israel and Washington have publicly disagreed on the way forward in dealing with Iran's nuclear programme, which much of the international community believes masks a weapons drive, despite Tehran's denials.

Israel has insisted it will not rule out a unilateral military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, sparking public statements from US officials cautioning against any such action.

Lieberman, speaking in Jerusalem, said discussions on the issue "should be held outside of the media," and criticised "public dialogues" on the subject.

But he insisted that the key alliance was still strong.

"There are differences, but the foundation of our relationship is firm, based on shared principles, personal and professional friendships," as well as "economic and scientific" collaboration, he said.

"The US was the first to stand by us in every international forum," he added. "Relations (with the US) will always be the cornerstone of our foreign relations, we will always make sure to retain the excellent relations with our best friend."

His comments came after sharply-worded statements from Netanyahu, which were widely interpreted as directed at the White House, in response to administration statements cautioning against unilateral Israeli military action.

"The world tells Israel: Wait, there's still time. And I say: wait for what? Wait until when?" Netanyahu said Tuesday.

"Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don't have a moral right to place a red light before Israel," he said.

While Washington and Israel share suspicions over Iran's uranium enrichment activities, the United States has said diplomatic pressure, including tough sanctions, need to be given more time to work.

But Israel, the Middle East's sole if undeclared nuclear power, believes the window for effective military action that could set back Iran's programme is narrowing.

It has also warned that Tehran has been able to weather the sanctions and continue its uranium enrichment unabated.

"Uranium enrichment is still going on, and although sanctions are growing, Iranian leadership is still containing the pressure," Ronnie Bar-On, the head of the Israeli parliament's foreign affairs and defence committee, said Thursday.

"As a former finance minister, I can predict that for the next 12 months or so, Iran can contain the current level of economic sanctions. This makes their willingness to halt the enrichment process doubtful at best."

Bar-On warned that ignoring Iranian nuclear activity "is not an option for Israel and it is a complex issue with the potential for developing into an actual threat to Israel's existence."

"The last minute for statesmanship and foreign policy is also the last minute that something can be done to prevent the bomb and the bleak future it holds. The whole world needs to be alert, to see that this last minute does not pass."

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