White House reassures Jewish leaders ahead of Iran talks

Vice President Joe Biden, left, speaking with Richard Stone, Chairman, and Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice Chairman, of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, May 21, 2012.


WASHINGTON — Top Obama administration officials reassured Jewish leaders of their commitment to a tough posture ahead of Iran nuclear talks.

Statements from the White House and from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations described briefings Monday with Vice President Joe Biden and other top officials from the State Department, the National Security Council, the Department of Homeland Security and the Treasury Department.

“In the day-long meetings, the senior officials reiterated the administration’s ‘ironclad’ commitment to Israel’s security and their determination to ‘keep all options on the table’ to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran,” said a statement from the Presidents Conference.

The meetings, according to several people who were among the 70 to attend the briefings, were timed ahead of talks in Baghdad Wednesday between the major powers and Iran on a framework for getting Iran to make more transparent its nuclear program.

The U.S. officials emphasized during the meetings that the United States would insist on tough verification measures and that it would not remove sanctions in exchange for pledges.

Biden described a previously undisclosed hour-long meeting he had last week with Ehud Barak, Israel’s defense minister.

Barak was in Washington for a formal meeting with Leon Panetta, his U.S. counterpart.

The vice president said he has known Barak for decades, and that they had never misled one another. Biden said he told Barak: “Israel is responsible for assessing Israel’s security needs and the United States will not stand in the way.”

The Obama administration has stressed that Israel has the sovereign right to defend itself against a perceived Iranian threat. At the same time, it has asked Israel to stand back while it exhausts non-military means of forcing Iran to end its suspected weapons program.

Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful in the face of claims from the international community that it is planning a nuclear weapons program.