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Senators: No Israeli decision on Iran strike yet

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 6:19 PM EST, Tue March 6, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Senators: Netanyahu says Israel has not yet decided on a strike against Iran
  • Bipartisan legislation calls for strengthening U.S.-Israel security cooperation
  • "I will never let my people live in the shadow of annihilation," Netanyahu says

Washington (CNN) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told U.S. senators he has not decided whether to strike nuclear sites in Iran, according to two Democratic senators who attended a closed meeting with him at the Capitol Tuesday.

"They say they haven't made a decision and I take them at face value," Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said after the meeting. "But I think they are making very clear their distinction between the U.S. perception of timing and theirs."

"He said a decision has not been made," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, chairman of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee. "But they have very strong resolve and very strong intent that Iran will not have a nuclear weapon."

At a press photo opportunity before the meeting, Netanyahu declined to directly respond to a CNN question about one report that Israel had already made a decision to attack Iran.

"I think we need to try to stay on the same page here," Kerry said. "I think the president and prime minister had good discussions and I think no decision has been made. So my hope is that diplomacy still has time to, perhaps, produce a result. I'm not sure what odds I'd put on it. But it's what you have to do."

One senator who attended the meeting but who asked not to be identified said Netanyahu expressed real skepticism about sanctions against Iran working to deter its nuclear program. The senator added that it's smart for Netanyahu to push the idea that Israel might carry out strikes because it creates a sense of uncertainty in Tehran.

For his part, Netanyahu simply said that he will "go back to Israel feeling that we have great friends in Washington."

He described what he called a "remarkable display of solidarity" with Israel among congressional lawmakers, saying they exhibited "clarity, courage and wisdom."

Netanyahu's visit to the United States comes amid renewed speculation that Israel may attack nuclear sites in Iran.

There is strong bipartisan support for Israel's security in the fractious Congress.

For example, Republican and Democratic House members introduced legislation Monday affirming "the deep military and security ties forged over the past few years between the United States and the state of Israel."

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It also "reiterates U.S. policy affirming Israel's right to defend itself against threats and America's unshakable commitment to Israel's security," a statement about the legislation said.

The legislation was introduced by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia and House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland.

While President Barack Obama and Netanyahu said Monday that they stand together in their efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, Netanyahu warned that time for diplomacy is running short.

Speaking to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) after his meeting with Obama, Netanyahu said Iranian research "continues to march forward" despite painful economic sanctions imposed on the Islamic republic.

"My friends, Israel has patiently waited for the international community to resolve this issue," Netanyahu said. "We've waited for diplomacy to work. We've waited for sanctions to work. None of us can afford to wait much longer. As prime minister of Israel, I will never let my people live in the shadow of annihilation."

Before the two leaders met at the White House, Obama told reporters that both he and Netanyahu would prefer a diplomatic solution to the Iranian issue. But Obama also repeated the warning that he delivered at AIPAC's annual conference in Washington on Sunday -- that military force remains an option to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power.

"The United States will always have Israel's back when it comes to Israel's security," Obama said, repeating a line from the Sunday speech as Netanyahu nodded in agreement.

"I reserve all options and my policy here is not going be one of containment; my policy is prevention of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons and, as I indicated yesterday in my speech, when I say all options are on the table, I mean it," Obama said.

Netanyahu said he welcomed Obama's "strong speech" Sunday and noted that Iran considers the United States and Israel to be tied together.

The Israeli prime minister insisted that Israel will remain "the master of its fate" in ensuring that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon.

"Israel must reserve the right to defend itself, and after all, that's the very purpose of the Jewish state, to restore to the Jewish people control over our destiny," Netanyahu said.

Tehran has insisted that its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes. U.S. and Israeli officials, as well as several other countries, have said they suspect that Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon. Both have said they will act to prevent that from occurring.

Earlier Monday, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Director General Yukiya Amano, reiterated agency statements that it cannot say whether Iran's nuclear program is peaceful.

Obama remains under criticism over his Iran policy from Republican opponents, including the leading GOP contenders who hope to run against him in November's U.S. elections. Republicans call for a stronger public stance against the possibility of Iran developing a nuclear weapon.

CNN's Kate Bolduan and Ted Barrett contributed to this report.

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