WASHINGTON — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday criticized the Obama administration for refusing to set clear "red lines" on Iran's nuclear progress that would prompt the United States to undertake a military strike. As a result, he said, the administration has no "moral right" to restrain Israel from a strike.
His comments laid bare the tension between him and President Barack Obama over how to handle Iran. They also suggested that he is willing to use the presidential election to try to force Obama to commit to attack Iran under certain conditions.
He appeared to be responding to a weekend statement by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that the United States was "not setting deadlines" on Iran.
Netanyahu, speaking at a news conference in Jerusalem, said, "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."
In another sign of tensions, the Israeli Embassy said the Obama administration had declined a request from Netanyahu's office for a meeting with Obama when the Israeli leader visits the United States this month to attend the U.N. General Assembly. The Obama administration said the decision was due to a scheduling problem and had been conveyed to Israel long ago.
On Tuesday night, Obama called Netanyahu to try to calm the situation. The two talked for a full hour, hashing through the Iran confrontation and their misunderstandings, the White House said.
The White House also tried to tamp down controversy over the request for a meeting, saying that after a possible New York encounter was ruled out, Netanyahu did not request a meeting in Washington.
The United States says it has no evidence that Iranian leaders have made a final decision to build a bomb. The Israelis say Iran has plans for a bomb and must be stopped.
In demanding that Obama issue an ultimatum to Iran, Netanyahu appeared to be making use of his political leverage at a time when Obama's Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, has sought to make an issue of what Romney says is the administration's lack of support for Israel.