The West says Iran’s program is aimed at developing weapons technology. Iran says its program is for peaceful energy purposes.
Another central difference between the allies on Iran is the timeline for possible military action.
Netanyahu, in a speech to the United Nations in September, said Iran was about six months away from being able to build a bomb. Obama told an Israeli television station this past week that the U.S. thinks it would take “over a year or so for Iran to actually develop a nuclear weapon.”
Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S., tried to play down any division on the Iranian issue ahead of Obama’s trip. He said Friday that “the United States and Israel see many of the same facts about the Iranian nuclear program and draw many similar conclusions.”
Obama’s visit to Israel may quiet critics in the U.S. who interpreted his failure to travel there in his first term as a sign that he was less supportive of the Jewish state than his predecessors. Republican lawmakers levied that criticism frequently during last year’s presidential campaign, despite the fact that GOP President George W. Bush did not visit Israel until his final year in office.
The centerpiece of Obama’s visit will be a speech in Jerusalem to an audience mainly of Israeli students. It’s part of the president’s effort to appeal to the Israeli public, particularly young people.
He will make several cultural stops, all steeped in symbolism, in the region. They include the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem; Mount Herzl, where he’ll lay wreaths at the graves of Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern political Zionism, and Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister who was assassinated in 1995 by a Jewish extremist who opposed Rabin’s policy of trading land with the Palestinians for peace; and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, a revered site for Christians.