Obama, Netanyahu to discuss path on Iran

President Obama with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu
President Obama with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu during previous get-together

President Obama meets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House this morning.

Their discussion, at a time when Israel refuses to rule out an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, could help determine if there will be a new Middle East war in the coming months.

Yesterday, the president focused on that in a speech to an important pro-Israel lobbying group, fiercely defending his administration's commitment to Israel and making clear the U.S. shares Israel's desire to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.

But he also seemed intent on pointing out that he wants more time for diplomacy, saying he has a "deeply held preference for peace over war."

"I have Israel's back," Mr. Obama declared in his speech to the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

The president promised to act militarily if necessary to defend Israel, saying, "Iran's leaders should have no doubt about the resolve of the United States. ... I have said that, when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say."

Obama talks tough at AIPAC, urges caution on Iran

But he also made clear he prefers diplomacy, and that tough economic sanctions are working.

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"Already," Mr. Obama said, "there is too much loose talk of war. 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."

It's the same message the president will deliver today to Netanyahu, who made clear Israel does not need U.S. permission to attack Iran. "Perhaps most important of all," Netanyahu said, "I appreciated the fact that he said that Israel must be able to defend itself, by itself, against any threat."

Netanyahu said last week he would not set down "red lines" for Israeli or U.S. action, but he has said publicly he would go further than the us and demand Iran end all of its uranium enrichment. "The demands on Iran," he said, "should be clear: dismantle the underground nuclear facility in Qom, stop enrichment inside Iran, and get all the enriched material out of Iran."

That is the crux of the discussion Mr. Obama and Netanyahu will have today. Netanyahu wants to make sure Iran never even gets close to developing the capability to have a nuclear weapon.

And the personal dynamics of the session will also be interesting. It will be the ninth Obama/Netanyahu meeting. Their last one in the Oval Office was pretty tense. And when the president was asked to describe their relationship, he called it "functional."

To see Norah O'Donnell's report, click on the video in the player above.

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    Norah O'Donnell is the anchor and managing editor of the "CBS Evening News." She also contributes to "60 Minutes."