Netanyahu meets Clinton as US visit winds up

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday to discuss Iran's nuclear ambitions, after vowing that the Jewish state will not live "under the shadow of annihilation."

With the world focused on the prospects of a military strike on Tehran's atomic sites, Netanyahu was winding up his US visit, a day after talks with President Barack Obama, who said diplomatic efforts with Iran should continue.

An aide to Netanyahu told AFP that the Israeli premier met Clinton at 9:00 am (1400 GMT), in talks lasting an hour, against the backdrop of a hawkish speech he made to the AIPAC pro-Israel lobbying group.

"Unfortunately, Iran's nuclear program has continued to march forward. Israel has waited … for diplomacy to work, we've waited for sanctions to work. None of us can afford to wait much longer," Netanyahu said late Monday.

"As prime minister of Israel I will never let my people live in the shadow of annihilation," he told 13,000 delegates at the conference.

While Clinton has voiced exasperation in the past over settlement building in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem under Netanyahu, the Israeli leader enjoys strong bipartisan backing on Capitol Hill.

Netanyahu praised Congress during the AIPAC speech on Monday, saying that more than half the members of the legislature were guests in the audience.

"Democrats and Republicans alike, I salute your unwavering support for the Jewish people," he said, before asking delegates "to stand up and applaud the representatives of the United States," prompting a standing ovation.

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, meanwhile, on Tuesday pledged to continue strong American backing for Israel's military, aid which he said had increased "dramatically" under Obama's administration.

"This is an ironclad pledge which says that the United States will provide whatever support is necessary so that Israel can maintain military superiority over any state or coalition of states, as well as non-state actors," Panetta said in a speech at AIPAC.

Netanyahu will meet US congressional leaders later on Tuesday.

In Brussels, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, speaking on behalf of China, France, Germany, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States, reiterated an offer to resume talks with Tehran.

The Obama administration has said it does not believe Iran has taken a decision to develop a nuclear weapon, or that the time is right for military action, preferring to give biting new sanctions time to work.

However Israel, which sees a possible Iranian nuclear weapon as a threat to its existence, believes that Iran may be on the cusp of "break out" capability — the moment when it could quickly build a nuclear weapon.

In his speech to AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Netanyahu sought to minimize the differences between himself and Obama.

"(Obama) stated clearly that all options are on the table and that American policy is not containment," Netanyahu said.

"Israel has exactly the same policy. We're determined to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, we leave all options on the table and containment is definitely not an option."

Netanyahu said that for the world to allow Iran — which he said was dedicated to the destruction of the Jewish state — to attain a nuclear arsenal evoked memories of US refusal in World War II to bomb the Auschwitz Nazi death camp to prevent the mass extermination of Jews there.

"My friends, 2012 is not 1944," he said.

Netanyahu also told Obama on Monday that Israel must remain the "master of its fate," in a firm defense of its right to mount a unilateral strike on Iran.

Obama assured Netanyahu he had Israel's "back" but also stressed that he saw a "window" for diplomacy, despite rampant speculation Israel could soon mount a high risk go-it-alone military operation.

In an impassioned on-camera statement, Netanyahu told Obama: "Israel must have the ability always to defend itself, by itself, against any threat.

"That's why my supreme responsibility as prime minister of Israel is to ensure that Israel remains the master of its fate."

A senior US official said after the meeting that Washington now believed that Netanyahu understood Obama's seriousness about preventing Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.

An Israeli official commented that Israeli concerns were now also widely understood, but did not elaborate.

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