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Panetta asks for patience as Israel looks to halt Iran's nuclear program (+video)

Wednesday, US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss diplomacy when it comes to Iran's nuclear capabilities.

By Robert BurnsAssociated Press / August 1, 2012

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta shake hands during a meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, Wednesday, Aug. 1.

Sebastian Scheiner/AP

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Jerusalem

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that U.S. statements of solidarity with Israel and its assurances that military strikes are still an option aren't working to convince Iran that the West is "serious about stopping them" from developing nuclear weapons.

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US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta meets with Ehud Barak, his Israeli counterpart.

Standing with a visiting Leon Panetta, Netanyahu dismissed the U.S. defense chief's counsel to give diplomacy more time to halt Iran's nuclear program.

"Right now the Iranian regime believes that the international community does not have the will to stop its nuclear program," Netanyahu said at the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem. "This must change, and it must change quickly because time to resolve this issue peacefully is running out."

Earlier Wednesday, at an Israeli defense site south of Tel Aviv, Panetta stood beside Defense Minister Ehud Barak to declare that the Obama administration is serious about the possibility of eventually resorting to military force against Iran. But he said all non-military measures must be exhausted first.

Barak sounded as unconvinced as the prime minister, saying he appreciated U.S. support but added that the probability of international sanctions ever compelling Iran to give up its nuclear program is "extremely low."

Netanyahu's and Barack's statements, taken together, dramatized the growing strains in U.S.-Israeli relations over what strategy to pursue with Iran.

Tehran has said repeatedly that its nuclear work is for civilian energy uses only, but suspicions that the Islamic republic will use enriched uranium for nuclear weapons have resulted in international sanctions and saber-rattling from Israel, which perceives a nuclear Iran as an existential threat. The United States has discouraged Israel from a unilateral, pre-emptive military strike on Iran.

Panetta on Wednesday said repeatedly that "all options," including military force, are on the table to stop Iran, should sanctions and diplomacy — the preferred means of persuasion — ultimately fail.

He said he still hopes Iran will see that negotiations are the best way out of this crisis.

However, Panetta said, "If they continue and if they proceed with a nuclear weapon ... we have options that we are prepared to implement to ensure that that does not happen."

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