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Questions about the possibility of military action against Iranian nuclear sites made a return to the spotlight on Wednesday during a White House news briefing, prompted by remarks by Israel’s defense minister, reported widely in Israeli media.

In the first extensive remarks in some time on U.S. efforts with allies and partners to persuade Iran to change course on its nuclear program, President Barack Obama’s spokesman said the P5+1 nations will “insist” that Tehran move “in a serious way” to find a diplomatic solution.

Questions to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney by reporters focused on remarks by Israel’s defense minister Ehud Barak, in which he listed specific goals for the P5+1 group in upcoming talks with Iran.

The Jerusalem Post reported the following goals for the talks:

- Transfer of all uranium enriched to 20 percent out of Iran to a third party country

- Transfer of the majority of the 5 tons of uranium enriched to 3.5 percent out of Iran, leaving just enough for energy purposes

- Closure of the Fordow enrichment facility

- Transfer of fuel rods from a third party country to Iran for the purpose of activating the Tehran Research Reactor

In Wednesday’s White House news briefing, Carney was asked if the goals outlined by Barak match those of the U.S, whether the U.S. and Israeli agendas for the P5+1 talks are the same, and if the U.S and Israel are “working in tandem.”

Jay Carney

Jay Carney

Carney avoided a direct response, declining to go into specifics about what he called “particulars” that might be part of P5+1 discussions. He repeated the overall goal with partners of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

The U.S., he said, “believes that diplomacy coupled with strong sanctions and increased isolation” is the best way to ensure that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon in near or longer term.

Carney also repeated the familiar “time and space” response, and President Obama’s position that he takes no options off the table. It is important, said Carney, that the Iranians “move in a serious way” toward finding a solution that ensures Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon.

In remarks to Israeli military reporters quoted in The Jerusalem Post, Ehud Barak said an Israeli strike would “not be needed within weeks, but it is also not something that can wait a number of years.”

Another reporter asked Carney if the U.S. feels it has made any progress in persuading Israel to “hold off” on any military strike on Iranian nuclear sites, and whether Washington still thinks such a strike remains a possibility in coming months.

Carney would say only that he had no updates on that specific issue. “We believe that the best way of ensuring that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon is through the approach that the president has taken” Carney said, adding that it remains to be seen if the Iranian leadership will “go through the door” which remains open to them to forsake nuclear weapons.

Just over a week remains before the P5+1 talks are scheduled to take place. In her latest remarks on the Iran nuclear issue, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said a nuclear-armed Iran, or a conflict arising from its nuclear program would have de-stabilizing effects in the region.

In a recent ABC News interview, Clinton said it is the “strong belief” of the United States, one that has been conveyed to Israel, that a unilateral strike on Iran would not be “in anyone’s interest.”


Dan Robinson

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.

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