Obama: Time running out on Iran nuke issue

Updated: 2012-09-26 07:19


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UNITED NATIONS - U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday set a tougher tone against Iran by saying that time is "not unlimited" to settle the dispute and Washington will do "what it must" to stop Tehran from getting a nuclear bomb, although he said he still prefers diplomacy.

"America wants to resolve this issue through diplomacy, and we believe that there is still time and space to do so," Obama told the annual general debate of the UN General Assembly.

"But that time is not unlimited," the president warned.

Israel has repeatedly threatened to use preemptive strikes to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities. However, the United States insists that there is still time and space for diplomacy.

The increasingly impatient Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been pushing the United States to lay down a clear red line that Iran cannot cross. But there is still no sign that the Obama administration has decided to heed such a demand.

Major Western powers and Israel have long suspected that Iran is secretly developing nuclear weapons, but Iran insists its nuclear program is for civilian purposes only.

With only six weeks away from the American presidential election, Obama took the arena of the United Nations to set a tougher tone against Tehran, in an apparent bid to woo the powerful Jewish lobby in his country and hit back at the harsh criticism by his Republican rival Mitt Romney.

While affirming nations' right to use nuclear power peacefully, Obama said he believes that a nuclear-armed Iran would threaten the security of Israel and Gulf nations, as well as the stability of the global economy.

To avoid "a nuclear arms race in the (Middle East) region" and "the unraveling of the (nuclear) non- proliferation treaty," Washington will do "what it must" to prevent Tehran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, he warned.

Despite the harder stance, Obama on Tuesday did not set a clear threshold for military actions against Tehran, as demanded by Netanyahu. So it is still unclear how the hawkish Israeli prime minister, who has a well-known frosty relationship with Obama, will react when he addresses the United Nations on Thursday.

It is apparent that for Obama, campaigning trumped diplomatic fanfare right now. With full focus on the election of November 6, Obama only paid a brief visit to the UN headquarters at New York and skipped customary bilateral meetings with other heads of states.

"Look, if he met with one leader, he would have to meet with 10," an anonymous aide of Obama was quoted by the New York Times as saying.