Day One: Analyzing the Obama-Netanyahu press conference. Here are the key points made. Question remains: How will U.S. handle Iran, Syria threats?

U.S. President Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu speak at a news conference in Jerusalem, March 20, 2013. (Photo by Reuters)

U.S. President Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu speak at a news conference in Jerusalem, March 20, 2013. (Photo by Reuters)

>> Text of full official transcript of the Press Conference with PM Netanyahu and President Obama

>> Three critical questions Obama needs to answer during his Israel trip: My op-ed for Fox News website

10:00pm Israel time — A few observations about the two leaders:

  • Much warmer chemistry that at any time in the past four years.
  • President kept calling Netanyahu by his nickname, “Bibi.”
  • They made jokes, even about each other.
  • It was clear both men were working to improve their relationship, and the perception of their relationship.
  • It struck me that Netanyahu was deeply grateful the President of the United states was in Jerusalem, what he called Israel’s “historic capital,” honoring him and the nation of Israel.
  • Nothing contentious was raised, except by the press, and the leaders deftly maneuvered around such questions and insinuations of past troubles.
  • The real question, of course, is: What is really happening behind closed doors?
  • But the day certainly gave the appearance of an alliance that is closer and stronger than it has been in years.
  • It is even possible — to early to be sure, but possible — that the two men are seeing the Iran issue more closely than they have in the past.
  • To be determined….

9:12pm Israel time — Press conference ends.

Here are the Tweets I posted during the presser:

  • Netanyahu: glad to be able to reciprocate the President’s hospitality
  • Netanyahu leads with Iran threat, but says “so far diplomacy and sanctions have not stopped Iran.”
  • Netanyahu says Israel can “never cede” the right of self-defense — even to the U.S. — in face of “existential threat”
  • Netanyahu now turns to Syria, mourning death of so many civilians, discussing WMD
  • Netanyahu says Israel is “fully committed” to peace, “two states for two peoples.” Calls for “historic compromise.”
  • Netanyahu notes this is the 10th mtg with President Obama. “Deeply appreciated,” especially on eve of Passover.
  • President Obama thanks Netanyahu, Sara, and their two sons. Says Bibi’s sons clearly got their good looks from their mother. LOL.
  • President says he has “spent more time” with Netanyahu “than with any other leader”
  • President says Israel’s security needs are truly unique and is “measured in miles and minutes.”
  • President is repeatedly referring to Israeli PM as “Bibi,” effort to make relationship more personal.
  • President commits to continuing to fund Iron Dome system so Israel can defend itself, by itself.
  • Interesting: President leads with Palestinian issue, while Netanyahu began with Palestinian issue.
  • President now discussing Syria threat, only now — last — Iran nuclear threat.
  • President says US doesn’t have policy of containtment, but prevention. “Still time” to use diplomacy.
  • President makes no news on Iran issue — except that he is there, affirming Israel’s right of self-defense.
  • President says US will “investigate thoroughly” the allegation of chemical weapons use in Syria. “What can we prove?”
  • “We know the Syrian government has the capacity to use chemical weapons” and some in govt have expressed willingness to use them.
  • President says he is skeptical of claims the rebels have used chemical weapons, when it is the Syrian govt that really has the stockpile.
  • President: “Assad regime has lost all credibility” and “Assad must go.”
  • President: If Syria uses chemical weapons, this would be a “game changer,” but won’t specify next steps until facts are known.
  • President being asked by reporter about “red lines” and Iran nuclear threat.
  • Netanyahu: “I’m absolutely convinced that the President is determined to prevent Iran from getting nuclear bombs.”
  • Netanyahu: “A nuclear Iran is a grave threat.”
  • President: stresses intelligence cooperation w/Israel as “unprecedented” and there is “not a lot of daylight” between assessments.
  • President: Each country has to make its own decisions about its security, and wouldn’t expect Israel to “defer” decision to U.S.
  • Noteworthy: President Obama said there isn’t much “daylight” between him and Netanyahu, but conceded there is some.
  • Obama: “What was already a tough neighborhood has gotten tougher.” But Israel has a friend in U.S., and “America has your back.”
  • Netanyahu: “There is a misunderstanding about time.” If Iran decides to build The Bomb, it would take about a year.”
  • Netanyahu says Iran “hasn’t yet reached the red line…but is getting closer.”
  • Netanyahu: “Whatever time is left, there isn’t a lot of time.”
  • Interesting: “settlements” never mentioned in this press conference.

8:30pm Israel time — Press conference begins — see live tweeting — @joelcrosenberg.

8:25pm Israel time — While we’re waiting for the press conference, a bit of light-hearted news. The President’s limousine, nicknamed by the Secret Service “the Beast,” wouldn’t start this morning. Why? Some staff person apparently filled it with diesel, not unleaded gas. Air Force One was actually inbound for Tel Aviv when the Secret Service realized the problem. So they had to call their staff in Jordan and have them rapidly send another presidential limousine that had been prepositioned for the next leg of the trip. Fortunately, the backup limo arrived in time. Never a dull moment.

8:15pm Israel time — Press conference with two leaders will begin shortly.

7:00pm Israel time (6 hours ahead of Washington, DC) — Governor Mike Huckabee just interviewed me for about 15 minutes about the President’s visit to Israel and current developments in the epicenter. I’m grateful the Governor called Damascus Countdown “fascinating and compelling” and “way to close to reality for a novel.”

Here are some of the points I made on his nationally syndicated radio program:

As I noted in my oped for the Fox News website today, there are three critical questions the president needs to answer on this trip:

    1. Have diplomacy, sanctions and covert operations failed to stop Iran from  building nuclear weapons?
    2. If so, will President Obama order airstrikes against Iran, or give Israel  the “green light” to hit Iran’s nuclear sites since other measures have  failed?
    3. If not, why not?
  • It is likely that these questions are being asked during the private dinner Netanyahu and Obama are having as we speak.
  • There appears to be daylight between Shimon Peres and Netanyahu on the “trust factor.” Peres said earlier today that Israel trusts Obama and his policies to bring about a peaceful resolution of the Iran nuclear threat. It is unlikely that Netanyahu could say such a thing, or mean it. The Prime Minister does not trust the President — he wants to; he would very much like to see the U.S. take the lead on decisively neutralizing the Iranian nuclear threat, but he has not see concrete actions that give him confidence.
  • Perhaps the President has new intelligence, or a new plan, that he is unveiling tonight that could change the equation.
  • I would expect the optics and body language of this trip to be very positive for the two leaders.
  • We may not know for several days, or weeks, if there is true unity between Netanyahu and Obama on the Iran issue.

6:30pm Israel time — Who is in the room? Meeting with the Netanyahus and President Obama this evening are:

  • Secretary of John Kerry
  • US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro
  • Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon
  • International Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz
  • Yitzhak Molcho, senior advisor to the PM
  • Ron Dermer, senior advisor to the PM

5:21pm Israel time (6 hours ahead of Washington, DC) — Peres says Israel trusts Obama on Iran. Will Netanyahu say the same thing?

“Peres calls Obama a true friend and says he has faith that the U.S. president’s dream can be achieved, and that it can change the face of the Middle East,” reports Haaretz.” He says the two agree that Iran is the greatest threat, and that Israel trusts the U.S. policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon – believing it is in Obama’s interest to do so without force and with clear declarations.”

>> NOTE: I’m tracking coverage from the Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, Times of Israel, AP, Reuters, CNN, Fox News, and numerous other journalists, analysts and friends.

>> NOTE: I’m going to be live Tweeting the next few days through the President’s visit to the epicenter — Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan. I’ll also be re-Tweeting key tidbits, stories and analysis I’m seeing from others. Please send me stories you find interesting, and please follow along — @joelcrosenberg

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