| GEO World|
| No option off table on Iran: Israel|
| Updated at: 1807 PST, Monday, July 27, 2009|
HELD AL-QUDS: Israel dug in its heels Monday in a disagreement with the United States over a potential military strike to thwart Iran's progress toward a possible nuclear weapon, as the visiting American defense chief urged patience.
``We clearly believe that no option should be removed from the table,'' Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said pointedly, following discussions with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
``This is our policy; we mean it,'' Barak continued. ``We recommend to others to take the same position, but we cannot dictate it to anyone.''
While the United States also reserves the right to use force if need be, the Obama administration is playing down that possibility while it tries to draw Iran into talks about its disputed nuclear program and other topics. Gates urged patience Monday, and said Washington still hopes to have an initial answer in the fall about negotiations.
``The timetable the president laid out still seems to be viable and does not significantly raise the risks to anybody,'' Gates said.
Israeli leaders and a significant share of the population fear the U.S. is prizing outreach to Iran over its historic ties to Israel and appears resigned to the idea that Iran will soon be able to build a nuclear weapon.
President Barack Obama says he has accepted no such thing.
The question of how to deal with Iran's rapid advancement toward nuclear proficiency has become one of the most public differences between new administrations in Jerusalem and Washington, despite overall close relations.
Both Barak and Gates said time is short, and Gates stressed that any negotiations would not become cover for Iran to run out the clock while it perfects a nuclear weapon.
Gates's brief visit to Israel was partially aimed at dissuading Israel from a pre-emptive attack on Iran's known nuclear sites, although Israel has never announced any specific intention to do that. Barak's no-options-off-the-table comment, uttered three times, seemed to indicate Gates made no visible headway in getting Israel to soften its line.
Obama pledged a new outreach to Iran during last year's presidential campaign. Aides say the recent election-related political upheaval in Iran has complicated, but not derailed, that effort.
Moreover, the United States argues that a strike would upset the fragile security balance in the Middle East, perhaps triggering anew nuclear arms race and leaving everyone, including Israel and Iran, worse off.
On Sunday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton implicitly urged Israel to set aside any plans it might have for attacking Iran, saying she hopes the Jewish state understands the value of American attempts at diplomacy.
Speaking on NBC's ``Meet The Press,'' Clinton also said she would not reveal any specifics of a possible ``defense umbrella'' to protect Mideast allies against an eventual Iranian bomb.
The umbrella idea, which Clinton offhandedly mentioned last week, has fueled Israel's uncertainty over U.S. policy under Obama even though she later backpedaled.
Iran says it is merely trying to develop nuclear reactors for domestic power generation. The U.S. and much of the rest of the world believes the Islamic regime is trying to build a nuclear weapon.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had said Sunday he hopes to work out key policy disagreements with the U.S. during a series of meetings with high-profile American envoys. Gates was the second of a parade of Americans coming to Israel this week, and the only one for whom Israel's expansion of Jewish settlements was not a primary topic.
Israel is under heavy pressure to freeze construction in Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, land the Palestinians want for their eventual state and capital.
Netanyahu has so far resisted, and the issue is a growing sore point between the U.S. and Israel.
U.S. Mideast envoy George Mitchell described the differences with Israel as ``discussions among friends,'' and ``not disputes among adversaries.'' He was in Israel a day ahead of Gates. National Security Adviser James Jones and top Iran and Mideast specialist Dennis Ross are expected in Israel later in the week.
Washington says the turnstile visits are a coincidence.
``Naturally, in the context of friendly relations between allies, there isn't agreement on all points, and on several issues we are trying to reach an understanding, in order to make progress together toward our shared goals _ peace, security and prosperity for the whole Middle East,'' Netanyahu said Sunday.
The U.S. says continued Israeli construction on lands claimed by the Palestinians threatens to undermine future peace talks.
Israel says some expansion must be permitted to accommodate the ``natural growth'' of settler families.
An Israeli paper reported Monday that the number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank is now more than 300,000. The daily Haaretz, using military statistics, put the number of West Bank settlers at 304,569 _ a 2.3 percent increase since January.
The number of Israeli settlers has more than doubled since themid-1990s in the West Bank, which is home to around 2.5 million Palestinians. Another 180,000 Palestinians live in east Jerusalem.