WASHINGTON // The US vice president Joe Biden seemed to give Israel a green light for military action to eliminate Iran's nuclear threat, when he said the US "cannot dictate to another sovereign nation what they can and cannot do". Israel considers Iran its most dangerous adversary and is wary of the hard-line Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who just won a disputed re-election. He repeatedly has called for Israel to be wiped off the map and contends the Holocaust is a "myth".
Israel and the US accuse Iran of seeking to develop weapons under the cover of a nuclear power programme. Iran denies that. "Israel can determine for itself - it's a sovereign nation - what's in their interest and what they decide to do relative to Iran and anyone else," Mr Biden told ABC's This Week in an interview broadcast today. "Whether we agree or not. They're entitled to do that. Any sovereign nation is entitled to do that. But there is no pressure from any nation that's going to alter our behaviour as to how to proceed," he said.
The government of the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said it prefers to see Iran's nuclear programme stopped through diplomacy but has not ruled out a military strike. "If the Netanyahu government decides to take a course of action different than the one being pursued now, that is their sovereign right to do that. That is not our choice," Mr Biden said. While most experts are in agreement that there's a good chance Iran could have a usable nuclear bomb sometime during his presidency, President Barack Obama said in an interview on Thursday, "I'm not reconciled with that."
A nuclear-armed Iran, Mr Obama said, probably would lead to an arms race in the Middle East and that would be "a recipe for potential disaster". He said opposing a nuclear weapons capacity for Iran was more than just "a US position" and that "the biggest concern is not simply that Iran can threaten us or our allies, like Israel or its neighbours". Most experts believe that wiping out the Iranian nuclear programme is beyond the ability of Israel's military. In 1982 the Israeli air force destroyed Iraq's nuclear reactor in a lightning strike.
But Iran's facilities are scattered around the country, some of them underground. Mr Biden was asked in the interview that if the Israelis decide they need to try to take out Iran's nuclear programme, would the US stand in the way militarily. "We cannot dictate to another sovereign nation what they can and cannot do," the vice president reiterated. "Israel has a right to determine what's in its interests, and we have a right and we will determine what's in our interests."