Give sanctions time to work against Iran's nuclear aims, President Barack Obama said before meeting with Israel's prime minister, who wants a harder U.S. stand.
"Already, there is too much loose talk of war," Obama told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee lobbying group, which advocates pro-Israel policies to Congress and the White House.
"Over the last few weeks, such talk has only benefited the Iranian government, by driving up the price of oil, which they depend on to fund their nuclear program," Obama said. "For the sake of Israel's security, America's security, and the peace and security of the world, now is not the time for bluster.
"Now is the time to let our increased pressure sink in, and to sustain the broad international coalition we have built. Now is the time to heed the timeless advice from Teddy Roosevelt -- speak softly; carry a big stick."
Obama was to meet with Binyamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office at 10:45 a.m. EST Monday, followed by lunch in the State Dining Room at noon.
The White House said Sunday the meeting would "be an opportunity for the president to reaffirm the unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel, and to discuss a range of strategic issues of mutual concern."
Iran's nuclear program is widely expected to be the dominant issue.
Netanyahu wants Obama to take a tougher stand against Iran than the administration's current position -- specifically to be more explicit about the circumstances under which the United States would carry out a strike, The New York Times reported Monday.
U.S., Israeli and European officials, supported by U.N. weapons inspectors, assert Iran plans to build nuclear weapons. Tehran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful civilian uses only.
Israel has repeatedly said it would not let Iran reach nuclear-weapons capacity and has declared it has an option to launch a military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities as a last resort.
Obama said Sunday he too would not tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran and would act -- with military force, if necessary -- to prevent that from happening.
But "as president and commander in chief, I have a deeply held preference for peace over war," he said, and "I firmly believe that an opportunity still remains for diplomacy -- backed by pressure -- to succeed.
"The United States and Israel both assess that Iran does not yet have a nuclear weapon, and we are exceedingly vigilant in monitoring their program."
At the same time, he said Iranian leaders "should understand that I do not have a policy of containment -- I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon."
Containment was a U.S. Cold War policy to prevent the spread of Soviet communism. It represented a middle ground between detente, or developing working relationships with governments, and "rollback," or forcing change in major foreign-government policies, often by replacing a ruling regime.
Obama said the United States would "do what it takes to preserve Israel's qualitative military edge -- because Israel must always have the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat."
Netanyahu, who was on a state visit to Canada before traveling to Washington, responded quickly to Obama's speech.
"I appreciated the fact that he said Israel must be able to defend itself, by itself, against any threat," Netanyahu told reporters in Ottawa, Ontario.
"I appreciated the fact that President Obama reiterated his position that Iran must not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons, and that all options are on the table. I also appreciated the fact that he made clear that when it comes to a nuclear-armed Iran, containment is simply not an option."
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