More than three weeks after Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama sat down to discuss strategy on the Iranian nuclear issue, there are fewer U.S. headlines (though perhaps not in Israel) about potential military action against Iran’s nuclear sites.
As the White House always reminds reporters, and as President Obama has stressed, consultations continue with Israel at all levels – diplomatic, military, intelligence. But we are now past the spike that we saw in media reporting and speculation about any imminent Israeli action.
Iran is now scheduled to sit down with the P5+1 group of nations – the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany – on April 13. That date takes the world closer to the July target for implementation of new European Union sanctions.
These and U.S. sanctions are aimed at stepping up the pressure further on Iran to change direction on what the U.S., key partners and Israel believe is a program, spread across numerous sites in Iran, aimed at developing a nuclear weapon.
Though headlines, at least in U.S. media, about potential Israeli military action have subsided for now, there is no lessening of urgency. In his recent news conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron, Obama said Iran’s leaders should realize that “the window for solving this issue diplomatically is shrinking.”
U.S. presidential campaign issue
Meanwhile, the potential of any military confrontation between Israel and Iran, and global concerns about this and wider repercussions for energy markets, is a major background issue in 2012 U.S. presidential politics, as Obama ramps up his rhetoric against Republican contenders.
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, the frontrunner among those still vying for the Republican nomination, had additional criticisms of Obama, asserting that the president has tried to “slow the growth of oil and gas production.”
The White House points out that domestic oil and gas production is at an eight year high, with numerous steps taken by Obama to boost production. Obama says anybody who suggests that his administration is somehow suppressing domestic production “isn’t paying attention.”
Before the president embarked on a two day road trip to highlight his energy policies, White House spokesman Jay Carney was asked if Obama is concerned that he continues to be blamed for rising gas prices.
Carney said the president is concerned not about who gets the blame but about “making sure we have the right policies to deal with this challenge for the long term,” adding that Republican presidential contenders are putting out “hollow” proposals “masquerading as energy policies.”
On his road trip, Obama repeatedly pointed to the uncertainties of a global oil market that determines the price of gas Americans have to pay and the fact that “tensions in the Middle East” contribute to price rises.
The Iran factor
Standing against the backdrop of giant pipeline sections for the southern section of the Keystone XL pipeline that will carry oil from Canada to refineries on the U.S. Gulf coast, he said: “The main reason the gas prices are high right now is because people are worried about what’s happening with Iran.” He added: “It has to do with the oil markets looking and saying, you know what, if something happens there, could be trouble and so we’re going to price oil higher just in case.
Obama reiterated this point in an interview with the American Automobile Association published on Friday, saying uncertainty about Iran and the Middle East have added “a $20 or $30 premium to oil prices.
Another part of a recent White House briefing was worth noting because it points to the wide-ranging consultations underway between Washington and key allies, such as Britain and oil producing giant Saudi Arabia.
White House spokesman Carney was asked if Obama believes there is more that other countries could be doing to help bring down gasoline prices.
Saying the “tools” the U.S. government has to bring down prices are “limited in the near term,” Carney added that the price of oil was a topic in the talks Obama had with Britain’s prime minister. He said they are also a topic of conversations “fairly regularly because of the prominence of the issue right now.”
Carney would not supply specifics as to with which governments these regular conversations are being conducted. Asked about Saudi Arabia saying current oil price levels were not justified and offering to pump more oil, Carney only referred to remarks by U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner who welcomed the Saudi comment as “a very constructive signal.”
Dan Robinson has been Voice of America's Senior White House Correspondent since 2010, arriving from Capitol Hill where he covered the House of Representatives from 2002 to 2009. He is also a former bureau chief for VOA in Southeast Asia, and East Africa, and headed VOA's Burma broadcast service between 1997 and 2001.