WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Barack Obama has told visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the United States "will always have Israel's back" on security matters, describing the bond between the two countries as "unbreakable."
Obama and Netanyahu spoke to reporters briefly before going into a closed-door meeting at the White House, which the U.S. leader said would focus mainly on Iran's disputed nuclear program but also include discussion about regional issues, including what Obama called the "incredible changes" brought about by the popular revolutions of the Arab Spring.
The two leaders' meeting comes at a time of soaring tensions between Iran and Israel and talk by Tel Aviv of possible military strikes inside the Islamic republic aimed at destroying its nuclear installations. Tehran has responded with threats of its own.
Obama told the Israeli premier that it's in the United States' own national interest to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, which is why it has led Western allies in imposing "crippling sanctions" on the regime.
"We do not want to see a nuclear arms race in one of the most volatile regions in the world," Obama said. "We do not want the possibility of a nuclear weapon falling into the hands of terrorists. And we do not want a regime that has been a state sponsor of terrorism being able to feel that it can act even more aggressively or with impunity as a consequence of its nuclear power. That's why we have worked so diligently to set up the most crippling sanctions ever with respect to Iran."
Obama also said that the window for a diplomatic solution to the crisis is still possible but that the ball is now in Iran's court.
"Even as we will continue on the diplomatic front, we will continue to tighten pressure when it comes to sanctions," he said. "I reserve all options, and my policy here is not going to be one of containment. My policy is prevention of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons. And as I indicated yesterday in my speech, when I say all options are on the table, I mean it."
Speaking after Obama, Netanyahu did not endorse the view that diplomacy could still win the day. Instead, he told Obama that Israel must remain "master of its fate" and "has the right, the sovereign right, to make its own decisions."
But he also declared that Israel's enemies see the United States as one and the same as the Jewish state, saying, "We are you and you are us."
"Americans know that Israel and the United States share common values, that we defend common interests, that we face common enemies," Netanyahu said. "Iran's leaders know that, too. For them, you're the Great Satan, we're the Little Satan. For them, we are you and you're us.
"And you know something, Mr. President -- at least on this last point, I think they're right. We are you, and you are us. We're together. So if there's one thing that stands out clearly in the Middle East today, it's that Israel and America stand together."
Reported by Heather Maher in Washington, based on pool reports